Small Wars Journal

Saudi Arabia: Fires Out After Purported Houthi Drone Strikes on Oil Facilities

Saudi Arabia: Fires Out After Purported Houthi Drone Strikes on Oil Facilities

Edward Yeranian – Voice of America

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Saudi Arabia's interior ministry says that fires from an apparent early morning drone strike at Aramco oil facilities in the eastern town of Abqaiq have been extinguished and that no one was killed in the attacks.

A military spokesman for Yemen's Houthi militia group claimed responsibility for the drone strikes, but it was not clear if the drones originated in Yemen.  

Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV also reported that "fires from attacks on two major oil facilities in the eastern town of Abqaiq have now been extinguished, although operations to cool the sites are still ongoing." Video showed giant plumes of steam rising into the afternoon sky.

Amateur video of the early morning attack showed a number of fires raging outside of Abqaiq in the night-time sky as what appeared to be another explosion that erupted in the distance. Saudi media reported that the attacks took place Saturday about 4 a.m. local time.

Residents of Abqaiq posted video of what appeared to be Saudi anti-aircraft guns firing into the air at the drones, as the attacks took place. Some Arab news channels claimed that Saudi air force early warning planes were dispatched to the country's northern border, amid fears the drones were coming from Iraq. VOA could not independently confirm the allegations.

Yemen's Houthi militia's military spokesman, Col. Yahya Saree, claimed responsibility for the drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities and vowed to increase them if Saudi-coalition forces continued their strikes on targets inside Yemen.

He said that 10 (Houthi) drones hit two Saudi Aramco oil facilities in the east of the kingdom, early Saturday, and that they sustained direct hits. He said the attacks are being dubbed "Operation Balance of Terror" and are a response to what he called the "ongoing crimes of blockade and aggression on Yemen" (since the Saudi-led coalition began battling the Houthis five years ago).

Saree claimed the attack was the "largest to date" and that it "required extensive intelligence preparations," including information from sources inside Saudi Arabia.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, told VOA that he suspects the drones may not have been launched from inside Yemen since the Houthis don't have drones capable of flying as far as Saudi Arabia's eastern province. Khashan does believe, however, that forces inside the kingdom helped guide the attacks.

"There is no doubt that in order for the Houthis to land the drone on the target they need coordinates and they need someone on the ground to guide them in determining the coordinates. It sounds plausible to me that they have support on the ground in the Eastern Province," Khashan said.

There has been some speculation that alleged Houthi drone attacks on the Saudi Yanbu pipeline last May were launched from Iraq, which is much closer to the target than Yemen. That attack damaged two oil pumping stations along the largest Saudi cross-country oil pipeline.

Saturday's attack comes as the Saudi oil giant Aramco prepares to publicly sell shares of the company, leading some analysts to speculate the attacks were meant to depress the value of the company when its shares go on the market.

Several analysts on Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV accused Iran of perpetrating Saturday's drone attacks from bases operated by its Revolutionary Guard and local Shi'ite proxies from inside Iraq. VOA could not confirm the claims.