02 October 2020
- Raid on militant cell with credible links to Iran illustrates Tehran’s continued capabilities in Saudi Arabia, but risk of attack will remain low for now
- Major escalation in tensions with Iran would raise risk of attack against oil infrastructure or government targets, although Tehran will prioritise proxy operations in Iraq
- Sustained crackdown on Shia activism in Eastern province will sustain threat of violence, but capabilities of security forces will ensure this remains low-level
Saudi officials claimed on 28 September that security forces had arrested 10 people in a raid against a “terrorist cell” with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). They described the raid as taking place on a farm, but provided no specific location or date for the operation. Officials reported that police seized sniper rifles, explosives equipment and several kilogrammes of gunpowder during the operation, and identified three of the suspects as having received training in Iran in 2017, a claim that Tehran has strongly denied.
Iranian-linked groups throughout the Gulf region have increased their operations over the last year, including an attack on the Abqaiq processing plant and Khurais oilfield in eastern Saudi Arabia last September (see our 14 September 2019 Special Report). This comes amid heightened sectarian and geopolitical tensions between Tehran and Gulf countries vocally supportive of the US’s “maximum pressure” strategy on Iran. This has included severely damaging economic sanctions – which Riyadh has supported – and an Arab-Israeli normalisation process intended to increase Tehran’s diplomatic isolation. In response to such efforts to curb its influence, Tehran has backed militants in the region in order to build its overseas capabilities, and the reports of the terrorist cell operating…