Drone attacks on September 14, 2019, have caused fires at two major facilities run by Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company. One of the facilities is located in Abqaiq, near Dammam in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province. The other facility is located in the Hijrat Khurais oil field. The interior ministry spokesperson said the blazes at the facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais were under control.
The Houthis claimed responsibility for the drone attacks, the militia’s military spokesman said on Al Masirah TV. The broadcaster said the Houthis had deployed ten drones against the sites in Abqaiq and Khurais, and the militia pledged to widen the range of its attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The Arab Coalition said that investigations are ongoing to identify the perpetrators of the attacks. “Based on joint initial investigations with relevant authorities on operational evidence and indicators as well as physical evidence in the locations of the terrorist attack, the Joint Forces Command of the Coalition affirms that the investigations are ongoing to determine the parties responsible for planning and executing these terrorist attacks,” Arab Coalition Spokesperson Col. Turki al-Maliki said in a statement.
The Abqaiq oil processing facility
The Abqaiq oil processing facility, located some 60 kilometers southwest of Dhahran in the kingdom’s Eastern Province, is the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world. The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then later transports onto transshipment points on the Gulf and the Red Sea. Estimates suggest it can process up to seven million barrels of crude oil a day.
The Khurais complex
The Khurais complex is located about 160 km from the capital, Riyadh. It has estimated reserves of more than 20 billion barrels of oil and it is considered the country’s second largest oilfield. The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day.
The US Responses to the Attacks
Saudi state media reported that the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has told US President Trump, during a phone call ,that the kingdom was “willing and able” to respond to the latest attacks by Yemeni rebels on its oil facilities.
According to a release by the Saudi embassy in Washington, Trump told bin Salman that Washington was ready to cooperate with the kingdom to protect its security in the wake of the drone attacks. In the phone call, which came hours after the Houthi-claimed attacks, Trump also told the Crown Prince the attacks had a negative impact on the US and global economies.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of attacking the Saudi oil plants, as he ruled out Yemeni involvement and said Tehran was engaging in false diplomacy.
“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo said in a Twitter post, referring to Iran’s president and foreign minister. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply.”
The US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid condemned the drone attacks. On the official Twitter page of the US Mission to Saudi Arabia, Abizaid said, “The US strongly condemns today’s drone attacks against oil facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais. These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost.”
The US strategy of “maximum pressure” is increasing Iranian isolation and the economic pressure on Tehran. The United States and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for multiple attacks on tankers in the Arab Gulf.
The last attacks reflect a significant upgrade in the Houthi operational capabilities regarding the distance of the targets (about 800-1000 kilometers) and the number of drones that took part in the operation (ten drones).
The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have carried out a spate of cross-border missile and drone attacks targeting Saudi oil and gas facilities in recent months. Riyadh has long accused Tehran of supplying the Houthis with missiles and drones used in attacks against Saudi Arabia, a charge both Iran and the group reject. The Houthis also say they manufacture their own weapons system.
The escalating violence in Yemen could complicate UN-led efforts to implement the Stockholm agreement and a troop withdrawal in Hodeida, the main entry point for Yemen’s commercial and aid imports. The implementation of the agreement in Hodeida is an essential step to pave the way for political talks to end the war amid mistrust among all parties and competing agendas of Yemen’s fractious groups.
By striking oil infrastructure in the Eastern part of the kingdom and near the capital Riyadh, a message was communicated that Saudi Arabia is in fact vulnerable to attacks and therefore the US and its regional allies should reconsider their strategic calculus.
[Sources: Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, Arab News]