Key point: Saudi Arabia might not strike back without full U.S. support, but Tehran is thinking about it.
Two weeks after a devastating attack on Saudi oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais, one major question remains up in the air: What are the United States and Saudi Arabia going to do in response? Both are attempting to make a compelling case that Iran was directly culpable for the attacks. With proof of Iran's guilt, they can further isolate Tehran diplomatically, potentially paving the way for an aggressive response.
Saudi Arabia is caught between a rock and a hard place, however. If it does nothing, Iran will likely continue its aggression against the major U.S. partner in a bid to force the United States to ease its sanctions â€” after all, Riyadh can hardly attempt to de-escalate tensions with Tehran given that the latter's main target is the U.S. measures that the kingdom has little control over. But if Saudi Arabia strikes back at Iran to reestablish its deterrence, it would risk Iranian retaliation and put its vital energy infrastructure at serious risk of damage. With the pressure growing to make a move, Saudi Arabia might soon feel the need to take the plunge and inflict some sort of retribution on Iran.
The United States is deeply concerned about embroiling itself in another Middle Eastern conflict as it seeks to pivot its attention and resources to the great power competition with Russia and China. Accordingly, if one of Iran's opponents is going to initiate a military response to the Abqaiq and Khurais attacks, the Saudis themselves are likely to spearhead the operation. Indeed, when U.S. military advisers briefed U.S. President Donald Trump about the various options for an aggressive response, he insisted that Saudi Arabia would have to contribute to any retaliatory strike, CBS News reported.