A drilling rig at Saudi Arabia's Shaybah Oil Field. (Courtesy)

Coordinated Drone Attacks Cut Saudi Oil Production in Half

Riyadh, US blame Iran for strike

Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen have taken responsibility for a wave of drone attacks on two Saudi Aramco facilities that have brought to a halt about 50 percent of the company’s oil production, or about 5% of world supply.

The Houthi rebels (the movement’s official name is Ansar Allah, or “Supporters of God”) released a statement saying it targeted the Khurais and Abqai oil fields with 10 drones, and vowed to expand the range of its attacks inside the Saudi kingdom.

“This operation is one of the largest carried out by our forces deep in Saudi Arabia. It came after a thorough intelligence operation and prior monitoring, as well as cooperation by honorable and free people within the kingdom,” the Houthis said.

Riyadh and Washington said Iran was behind the attacks.

It is the latest in a series of strikes on the Saudi kingdom since a Riyadh-led coalition of Sunni nations intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman said in a statement that, “this terrorist and sabotage attack is an extension of recent ones which targeted oil and civil facilities, pumping stations and oil tankers in the Gulf.”

Mohammed Al Sabban, a former senior adviser to the Saudi petroleum minister, told The Media Line that the attack was “a declaration of war, not only against the Saudi kingdom, but the international community as well.

“It’s not the first attack of its kind against Saudi oil facilities; however, it’s the largest by the volume hit,” Al Sabban elaborated, explaining that the drone strikes targeted Aramco’s laboratories, which disrupted the daily production of 5.7 million barrels of oil.

He further noted that “what Iran has done isn’t easy, and its repetition threatens the entire region as well as the international economy and energy security.”

As for the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen claiming responsibility for the attack, Al Sabban said the Saudi investigation was ongoing and its findings would be revealed soon. He stressed, however, that “the incident was related to the Iranian aggression in the region and its expansion through various proxies.”

According to Al Sabban, there were “requests” by various parties for a Western-Gulf alliance to carry out a similar assault on Iranian oil fields. “I rule out that the response would be immediate,” he qualified, “but it might happen in the coming weeks or months.”

Qassem Qasser, a Lebanese writer and political analyst, told The Media Line that the incident came within the framework of the broader fight for power in the Middle East.

“This development is part of the general confrontation between America and Iran as well as their allies,” Qasser said, adding that any attack on Iranian interests could drag the region into a war with international ramifications.

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t have the ability to respond widely to the attack; I believe the response will take place in Yemen. A wider one would escalate the situation in the Middle East. No one has an interest in that,” Qasser said.

Ahmad Obaid Syaf, an analyst and writer from the United Arab Emirates, told The Media Line that the Islamic Republic was trying to bring Riyadh into line with its policies by employing the language of “black gunpowder;” that is, through war rather than dialogue and diplomacy.

“The incident is unfortunate. The targeting of oil facilities has a clear terrorist significance, and is a threat to regional security and the global economy,” Obaid Syaf said.

“[But] America will not respond to Iran; President Trump feels that his steps toward strangling Iran [economically] is the best way to break it,” he opined.

Ayal Alemeh, an Israeli political analyst, told The Media Line that even before this latest attack, Israel was concerned about Shi’ite fighters acquiring drones.

“In principle, using such drones as an offensive weapon, to transport explosives that can target anywhere, is what concerns Israel,” Alemeh said. He contended that the attack demonstrated Iran’s effort to expand its regional influence and control.

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