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Yemen’s Houthis Attack Saudi Oil Heartland with Drones, Missiles

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Yemen’s Houthis Attack Saudi Oil Heartland with Drones, Missiles

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Reuters – Yemen’s Houthi forces fired drones and missiles at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Sunday, including a Saudi Aramco facility at Ras Tanura vital to petroleum exports, in what Riyadh called a failed assault on global energy security.

The Saudi energy ministry said there were no casualties or loss of property from the attacks. The defense ministry said it intercepted an armed drone coming from the sea prior to hitting its target at an oil storage yard at Ras Tanura, site of a refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility.

Shrapnel from a ballistic missile fell near a residential compound in Dhahran used by state-controlled Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, the ministries said.

The attacks drove Brent crude prices above $70 a barrel to their highest since January 2020, while U.S. crude futures touched their loftiest since October 2018.

The sites are located on the Gulf coast across from Iran and near Iraq and Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Yemen lies southwest on the Gulf of Aden.

Announcing the attacks, the Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led coalition for six years, also said they attacked military targets in the Saudi cities of Dammam, Asir and Jazan.

“Such acts of sabotage do not only target the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but also the security and stability of energy supplies to the world, and therefore, the global economy,” a ministry spokesman said in a statement on state media.

The Saudi-led coalition earlier said it intercepted 12 armed drones aimed at “civilian targets” without specifying a location as well as two ballistic missiles fired towards Jazan.

The Eastern Province is home to most of Aramco’s production and export facilities. In 2019, Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, was shaken by a big missile and drone attack on oil installations just a few miles from the facilities hit on Sunday, which Riyadh blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.

That attack, which was claimed by the Houthis but which Riyadh said did not originate from Yemen, forced Saudi Arabia to temporarily shut more than half of its crude output, causing a huge price spike.

Escalation

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Sunday that the group had fired 14 drones and eight ballistic missiles in a “wide operation in the heart of Saudi Arabia.”

The Houthis recently stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia at a time when the United States and the United Nations are pushing for a ceasefire to revive stalled political negotiations to end the war.

Last Thursday, the movement said it fired a missile at an Aramco petroleum products distribution plant in the Red Sea city of Jeddah which the Houthis had attacked in November 2020, hitting a storage tank. Aramco and Saudi authorities have not commented about Thursday’s claim.

The military alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from power in the capital, Sanaa. The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Colonel Turki al-Malki, the spokesman of the Saudi defense ministry and of the Saudi-led military coalition, said in a statement that the ministry would take “all necessary, deterrent measures to safeguard its national assets.”

Earlier, the coalition said it conducted air strikes on Houthi military targets in Sanaa and other Yemeni regions on Sunday and warned that “civilians and civilian objects in the Kingdom are a red line.”

It said the Houthis had been emboldened after the new U.S. administration revoked terrorist designations on the group in February that had been imposed by former President Donald Trump’s administration and backed by Riyadh.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Houthi military leaders in the first punitive measures against the group by President Joe Biden’s administration following the increase in attacks on Saudi cities and intensified battles in Yemen’s Marib region.

In February, Mr. Biden declared a halt to U.S. support for offensive operations by the coalition but said the United States would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend itself.

The war, which has been in a military stalemate for years, has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.

“Genuine Security Threats”

The United States on Monday expressed alarm at “genuine security threats” to Saudi Arabia from Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis and elsewhere in the region after attacks on the heart of the Saudi oil industry, and it would look at improving support for Saudi defenses.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh said Washington was committed to defending Saudi following Sunday’s volley of drones and missiles, including one aimed at a Saudi facility vital to oil exports.

“We continue to be alarmed by the frequency of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. Escalating attacks like these are not the actions of a group that is serious about peace,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

“We understand that they face genuine security threats from Yemen and others in the region...We will look for ways to improve support for Saudi Arabia’s ability to defend its territory against threats,” Ms. Psaki told a Washington news briefing.

“The United States stands by Saudi Arabia and its people. Our commitment to defend the kingdom and its security is firm,” the U.S. Embassy said in an Arabic-language Twitter post.

In new incidents on Monday, the Saudi-led coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile and an explosive drone fired towards parts of the kingdom’s southern region.

The Houthi military claimed to have hit a military target at Saudi Arabia’s Abha airport, near the Yemen border, with a new type of ballistic missile.

Mr. al-Malki said on Al Arabiya TV that Iran was smuggling missiles and drones to the Houthis. The Houthis and Tehran have in the past rejected such charges.

Riyadh has repeatedly said that Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for regional proxies including in Yemen should be part of any talks aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear pact with Iran that Mr. Biden’s predecessor quit.

 
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