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The Aramco attack and the rise of nonstate actors

The attack against Saudi Arabia's Aramco facility points to a crucial change on how one traditionally understands armed conflict in the Middle East.
A metal part of a damaged tank is seen at the damaged site of Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed - RC1BC8385400

In the early hours of Sept. 14, a bizarre attack, the perpetrator of which is still officially unknown, hit at the heart of Saudi Aramco, the company that earns over half of Saudi Arabia's annual gross domestic product.

This drone-supported cruise missile attack not only demonstrated just how vulnerable Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter and the country with the highest defense spending per capita in the world, is to an asymmetric attack as such, but also shockingly revealed how a violent nonstate actor, if equipped with sophisticated military technology and expertise, can have an impact. No matter who the suspects — say, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen or Iran-backed proxies in Iraq — an analysis of the attack and its aftermath points to crucial changes on how armed conflict in the region is traditionally understood. 

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