Saudi oil facilities set ablaze by Houthi drone strikes

Earlier today, two Saudi oil facilities were hit by an extensive campaign of drone strikes. Yemen’s Houthi insurgents quickly claimed responsibility.

Saudi officials confirmed that two oil facilities, the Buqaiq oil processing plant and the Khurais oil field, which sit in the country’s Eastern Province, were hit by several drone strikes. As a result of the attacks, major fires were seen at both sites.

“At 4.00am (01:00 GMT) the industrial security teams of Aramco started dealing with fires at two of its facilities in Buqaiq and Khurais as a result of drones,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that in response to the strikes and subsequent fire, Saudi Arabia has cut its oil production by half. This amounts to a loss of roughly five million barrels of oil a day, according to the Journal. Oil production is slated to return to normal by Monday.

Yahya Saree’, the Houthi military spokesman, said that the insurgents launched ten drones at the facilities.

Saree’ also stated that the strikes were “in response to five years of Saudi aggression and its continuous siege in Yemen.”

Last month, the Houthis claimed another drone operation against Saudi’s Shaybah oil field near the United Arab Emirates. At more than 1,000 miles away from it’s Yemen territory, that strike marked one of the Houthis farthest claimed attacks.

The Houthis also claimed a drone strike on the Abu Dhabi airport last year, but that has been denied by Emirati officials.

Additionally, a drone strike on Saudi’s East-West oil pipeline near Riyadh earlier this year, which the Houthis claimed responsibility, was allegedly conducted by Iranian-backed Iraqi militants. If accurate, that means the Houthi claim of responsibility acted as a type of diplomatic cover for the Iraqi militants.

Given the distance between Buqaiq and Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, the possibility of today’s drone strikes being another instance of the Houthis providing diplomatic cover for other Iranian-backed militants in the region should be considered.

Indeed, Kuwait’s Al Rai Media has reported that a drone entered Kuwaiti airspace in a flightpath originating from Iraq shortly before the attacks in Saudi Arabia. That information has not yet been confirmed, however.

Nevertheless, the Houthis have clearly demonstrated that its drone capabilities – which have been supported by Iran – are continuously improving and can penetrate areas further away from Yemen.

Since beginning its drone program last year, the Houthis have launched at least 103 drone strikes in Yemen and Saudi Arabia according to data compiled by FDD’s Long War Journal.

Today’s strikes also demonstrate the global repercussions of this tactic, as Saudi oil production slowed over the weekend as a result.

[FDD’s Long War Journal has tracked and mapped over 400 Houthi ballistic and cruise missile launches, drone strikes, and naval attacks since June 2015. For more information, see the three-part series: Houthi missiles,dronesnaval attacks.]

Caleb Weiss is an editor of FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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