Saudi Arabia is facing a growing internal threat from its minority Shia community with help from Iran. The royals have put their best man in charge of the fight, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who has been at the center of fighting al-Qaeda’s challenge to the kingdom for years.
The Shia community in Saudi Arabia is diverse and complex. The largest Shia population is in the Eastern Province, which borders the Persian Gulf and where most of Saudi oil is found. The Shia community there has been in a state of growing unrest since the start of the Arab awakening in 2011. As the Shias have long been discriminated against by the Saudis, there have been increasingly violent protests against the House of Saud in the Shia community’s towns and villages. Since Saudi troops crossed the King Fahd Causeway last year to suppress demonstrations in neighboring Bahrain by the Shia majority there, anger at the Saudi royal family has become even more bitter among the Shias in the Eastern Province.
On Aug. 15, they struck at Saudi Arabia’s Achilles heel. A cyber attack was delivered against the Saudi oil company ARAMCO with devastating results. According to US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, 30,000 ARAMCO computer work stations were rendered useless and had to be replaced. The Saudi oil company, which Forbes magazine ranks as the world’s largest, and the key to the Saudi oil industry, had the data on many of its hard drives erased and replaced with photos of a burning American flag.
[Trump has] given Iran the moral high ground and that is an exceptionally difficult thing to do given the history and reality of Iran's misdeeds at home and in the region. It's just malpractice on the part of an American president.
The way the Trump administration is moving forward [with its Iran policy] is just so hostile to all aspects of Iran that it’s unlikely to produce any traction with the Iranian people or to encourage divisions within the system.
The intent of [any U.S. action] to do with the IRGC is basically to cast a very broad shadow over sectors of the Iranian economy and exacerbate the compliance nightmare for foreign businesses that may be considering trade and investment with Iran.