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 a contributor to 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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  • KW64 says:

    No one should doubt that these attacks ultimate are the work of Iran.

  • Donald A Thomson says:

    Saudi Arabia has much better targets for aerial attacks than Yemen does. Oil storage tanks, pipelines, tankers and refineries are vulnerable and high value. Of course Yemen is extremely poor and correspondingly weak. They wouldn’t have a thousandth of Iran’s capability and the US/Saudi naval blockade makes Iranian help only trivially possible. I don’t share the US belief that the US military is so cowardly that the whole US navy would flee before an Iranian speedboat, fishing trawler or knife armed swimmer. What about an Iranian with floaties and a rock? Of course, in the Straight of Hormuz, the Iranians would be a serious threat against a US war of aggression but some equipment is only useful at short range. [email protected]

  • Donald Shaffer says:

    Yes, but would the Houthis have the capabilities they are claiming without Iranian support? To what extent are the Iranians operating behind the scenes in this campaign? And even if they aren’t does MBS even care? He is going to hold the Iranians responsible and there is a real danger of a direct shooting war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that will suck in its respective allies, including the United States.

    • KW64 says:

      The US made clear that there was no evidence this attack came from the Houthis. Any response should be directed to Iran and should await a joint effort to build the capability to defend Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure from further attack. Once we have optimized that we can strike Iran’s abilities to conduct further such attacks as a limited response. In the meantime, we can stall until the Allied effort is ready by claiming we are accumulating evidence, taking evidence to the UN, debating response funding in Congress etc.

  • Chris says:

    I personally, don’t care who or whom smash the wahhabist nation. As long as someone does.
    Even if it cost’s me at the pump or across the board.
    Someone is doing what we should have on Sept. 13,2011

  • irebukeu says:

    Oh, the fun never stops with the ‘religion of peace’. IMO this is a Saudi issue. If the Shia and Sunni want to slaughter each other like they have been talking about during my entire life, we should only stand to the side and urge restraint.
    Lets not answer the phone when it rings.
    The children can work it out.


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