For the first time in the four years of war in Yemen, a lethal drone attack against Saudi Arabia’s two main oil plants was confirmed to have been launched from Iraqi territory. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s quick blame on Iran and its Houthi rebels in Yemen from where he originally claimed the attack was initiated, added to the confusion concerning this major development. Pompeo later joined the chorus confirming that the suicide drones raid which targeted the most important Saudi oil fields of Kuhrais and al Abqaiq originated in an Iraqi border area with a pro-Iranian local community. The deliberate US insistence to force Iran’s name in the incident – the Saudis themselves held off on accusations – has not downgraded the significance of this development and its immediate repercussions on the world oil markets.
Drones or Missiles, Damage Was Done
Houthi rebels in Yemen were quick to assume responsibility for the deadly attacks that set the two major Saudi oil installations ablaze on the morning of Saturday, September 14. Initially, it was quite clear whether the attack was carried out by long-range missiles or suicide drones, but Houthis reaffirmed the latter confirming that they had sent 10 suicide drones on this very mission.
Damage to the Saudi plants was so immense that it crippled the country’s oil production cutting it by half – that amounts to 5% of the world’s crude production. The Saudis announcement a few days ago that their production quota is now back to normal does not underestimate the seriousness of the incident and its economic, security and political fallout. Once again, US-made expensive and supposedly sophisticated Patriot anti-aircraft systems and other surface-to-air batteries have abysmally failed to prevent yet another costly drone attack by Yemeni rebels with limited resources, who threatened that there was more to come unless the Saudi-led coalition stops its war on Yemen.
More Embarrassment for MBS and Saudi Allies
The impact of the raids on the oil and financial markets was immediate. Oil prices rose and Saudi stocks fell, then settled and later fell again. A growing sense of anger and frustration among Saudi citizens following every such attack adds to the embarrassment of the Saudi royal family and its strong man, Crown Prince MBS. Their coalition has failed to produce any tangible results on the ground in Yemen, and has suffered widening fractures following the drawdown of UAE’s troops operating in Yemen, and a recent visit to Tehran by the Emirati Coast Guard commander to Tehran for consultations and coordination with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival and enemy, regarding security and safety issues in the Gulf region. The United Arab Emirates has had its own share of national regional insecurity and fear of an uncontrollable escalation when 6 tankers and other vessels were attacked off the coast of Al Fujairah a few months ago.
Confusion Shrouds Iraq Implication in Attack
So much ado and uncertainty regarding where this Houthi attack on Saudi oil plants had originated, as Iraq was implicated for the first time in such incidents against Saudi Arabia. Immediately following the attack, a senior Iraqi government official confirmed that the attack was launched from Iraqi soil, not from Yemen. Soon thereafter, Iraqi officials utterly denied that they had anything to do with this attack. Adding to the confusion and embarrassment of the Iraqis, a US-based Iraqi centre, the Future Foundation’s president Intifad Qanbar, quoting reliable sources of his inside Iraq itself, reconfirmed that the attack was launched from inside Iraqi territories, most likely from southern Iraq where Iran sympathizers are a majority. Iran, as usual, was singled out for the immediate blame and ready-made accusation; the media loves it, and the Iranians have grown used to it with obvious indifference.
The mere fact that this deadly attack against Saudi Arabia’s backbone oil installations was, for the first time, waged from inside Iraq itself remains a major and unexpected development that has everything to do with the Saudi-led war on Yemen. But more importantly even, is the fact that Iran-backed Houthi rebels feel much more confident and capable of inflicting ‘serious and painful’ damage on their arch-enemy Saudi Arabia, with strong warnings to its coalition partners. The table is turning against the Saudis and their fractured coalition in Yemen, and Houthi rebels are now well poised on the winning side.