Things to target in the Middle East. Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claim to have launched drone attacks on “vital Saudi installations” on Saudi Arabia’s 750 mile-long East-West Pipeline. Though they did not specify what they hit, Saudi Arabia said the targets were oil pumps. The attacks do not appear to have caused major damage, but the pipeline – the volume of which has already been reduced to an estimated 100,000 barrels per day, down from 500,000-700,000 bpd in recent years – was shut down temporarily just in case. The pipeline is strategically valuable; it allows Saudi oil exports to bypass the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf chokepoint that Iran has threatened to block repeatedly in the past. This, of course, comes a day after four oil tankers, two of them Saudi, were targeted near the strait in “sabotage attacks” believed to be involving small limpet mines. Late on Monday, unnamed U.S. officials told Reuters and the Wall Street Journal that Washington’s initial intelligence assessment puts the blame for the tanker incidents on Iran, though that has yet to be corroborated. There’s no evidence to suggest the pipeline and tanker incidents are connected. But, at minimum, it highlights just how many sensitive assets Iran and its allies could target in a conflict.
Iran makes an offer. The government in Tehran has expressed interest in a deal that would ease some of the pressure on its finances, Reuters reported, citing unnamed European diplomats. The rumor is that Iran would remain a party to the nuclear deal in exchange for being allowed to export 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. (Iran recently said it would abandon certain portions of the agreement.) Some Iranian officials have claimed that oil exports in May could drop to as low as 500,000 bpd, a substantial decline compared to its 2018 peak of 2.8 million bpd. India, which is one of Iran’s biggest buyers and one of the main reasons the U.S. issued waivers in the first place, reportedly only had one refinery take up Saudi Arabia’s offer of additional supply for the month of June.
Fallout from the trade war. More than $1 trillion in stock value was wiped out on Monday after China and the U.S. announced stiff tariff increases following the collapse of the truce in their trade war. China, naturally, is getting hit the hardest. Foreign investors dumped a record 10.9 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) worth of mainland shares, while the Shanghai Composite Index has plunged nearly 2 percent since Friday. The yuan dropped to its lowest level against the dollar in more than four months. China’s central bank injected $3.5 billion into the financial system and is expected to cut its reserve requirement for some small and medium-sized lenders on Wednesday. The U.S. can absorb more pain than China, but specific sectors such as agriculture and energy will suffer if the trade war continues to escalate. Soybeans futures, for example, have fallen to an 11-year low despite being spared from China’s new countermeasures. U.S. cotton also dropped by its 3-cent exchange limit. U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that farmers will receive another $15 billion in aid to help offset the damage. Meanwhile, the U.S. energy industry has warned that Chinese tariffs on U.S. liquefied natural gas, set to increase to 25 percent on June 1, could snuff out investment in expensive export terminals. Trump said he expects to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan. Until then, the White House is looking to up the ante further, reportedly starting the process of preparing duties on yet another $325 billion in Chinese goods.
Proactive Russian defense. The government in Moscow always tries to stay one step ahead on matters of defense. Which is why President Vladimir Putin is holding a series of meetings with defense officials and industry leaders, each of which will focus on a separate branch of the armed forces. The primary task at hand is to find ways of protecting Russia against aerial attacks, including those from, say, hypersonic missiles. In other words, Putin is trying to defend Russia against weapons its enemies don’t exactly have yet.
- Protests erupted in Yekaterinburg over a local square that is slated to become a Russian Orthodox church.
- After 30 years, Oman is planning to reopen its embassy in Iraq.
- Unofficial midterm election results in the Philippines show supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte winning nine of 12 available Senate seats.
- In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Syria’s cease-fire violations in Idlib are meant to undermine Russia-Turkey cooperation in the region. The Russian and Turkish defense ministers also held a call on Syria.
- Syrian rebel groups said they began a “large-scale attack” against government forces in northern Hama province in response to Syria’s offensives in Hama and Idlib. Russian air strikes in Hama and Idlib continued on Monday, according to opposition media.
- Spain said it temporarily withdrew a frigate from the combat group in the Persian Gulf led by the USS Abraham Lincoln.
- Clashes involving unidentified armed groups erupted in Khartoum after Sudan’s ruling military council and opposition groups announced they had agreed on the power structure of the country’s transitional authority.