// Pathways to Peace and Security. 2020. No 1(58). P. 157-167
Nikolai Kozhanov is a senior researcher at Group on regional relations, Center for the Middle East Studies, Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), Moscow
In late April 2020, Iran and the United States once again exchanged harsh statements regarding the actions of each other's naval forces in the Persian Gulf. The two countries threatened to use force against one another. While such an exchange is nothing new, two factors look particularly alarming. First, statements by the two countries came after a pause that lasted several months since the murder of a high-ranking Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps officer Qasem Soleimani by the U.S. military in January 2020. At the time, the sharp escalation forced Tehran to be more careful in its statements and actions, and the subsequent COVID-19 pandemic distracted the two parties from the conflict between them. The return of aggressive rhetoric suggests that the leaderships of the United States and Iran have adapted to new realities and are ready to continue their traditional game of chicken. Second, the U.S.–Iranian tensions exacerbated in particularly adverse circumstances. Any new escalation would inevitably raise concerns of oil consumers about possible threats to the security of oil supplies from the Gulf region. Yet, this time the escalation will not primarily damage interests of consumers as it had been the case in previous decades, from the 1970s through the 2000s, when a mere threat to oil exports from Gulf countries led to increase in oil prices. Instead, interests of regional producers, who may lose their traditional customers, are likely to suffer the largest damage. This shift reflects both the evolution of the global oil market (where the rules of the game are no longer set by oil producers, but rather by consumers) and the changing agenda of the Gulf countries’ energy security.
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Persian Gulf, energy security, Iran–U.S. relations, Saudi–U.S. relations, Abqaiq incident
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