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Saudi Arabia and Iran may finally be ready for rapprochement

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The October 11 attack on an Iranian oil tanker in Red Sea waters off the coast of Saudi Arabia stoked further friction in a region rattled by attacks on tankers and oil installations since May and increased fears of war between Riyadh and Tehran.

Thus far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Tehran, despite its history of swiftly blaming the United States and Israel for any perceived sabotage of its interests, refrained from accusing any specific party. The National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), which owns the targeted vessel, confirmed that its hull was hit by two separate explosions off the Saudi port of Jeddah, but made a point of denying reports that the attack had originated from Saudi soil. Furthermore, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said that a committee is investigating the incident to determine culpability. All this shows that Iran wants to de-escalate the tension over something that, in comparison to other confrontations between the regional rivals in recent years, from Yemen to Syria, can only be described as a minor incident.

Still, only time will tell how the attack will impact the general atmosphere in the already-volatile Gulf region and the wider Middle East. What is apparent, however, is that the current state of uncertainty, mistrust and confusion cannot be sustained if Iran wants to rejoin the international community after decades of isolation and if Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies seek further economic and social development. Only a return to quiet and purposeful diplomacy - with the assistance of third parties - can bridge differences between the two sides and help prevent what could arguably be one of the most calamitous military confrontations in the region's history.

It is improbable that Saudi Arabia is behind the attack on the Iranian tanker, despite its assumed desire to avenge the many attacks it sustained over the last few months.

On September 14, for example, attacks on two of its main oil production facilities knocked out more than half of the kingdom's production. Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed responsibility but US........

© Al Jazeera