Iran-Aligned Houthis Strike Major Saudi Oil Field
Shaybah oil field is attacked but crude production isn’t disrupted
The Houthis said they had targeted Saudi Aramco’s Shaybah oil field with 10 drones. PHOTO: SIMON DAWSON/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Sune Engel Rasmussen
Updated Aug. 17, 2019 12:25 pm ET
Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oil field, one of the kingdom’s largest, Saudi officials and the Houthis said, deepening tensions between Iran and its rivals that have engulfed the region’s energy facilities.
The Houthis said in a statement Saturday that they had targeted Shaybah with 10 drones. The Iran-aligned rebels said the attack was their largest of its kind on Saudi Arabia, which they have been fighting for control in Yemen since 2014.
The Saudi oil ministry confirmed what it called a terrorist attack on Shaybah, which is owned by Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Aramco, and holds about 14 billion barrels of oil reserves. A military spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, Aramco said it had controlled a fire at a natural gas production facility at Shaybah. The company said there were no injuries and no disruption to the field’s production of about 1 million barrels a day.
A Saudi oil official and an Aramco executive said the Houthis were exaggerating its size.
Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih said the attack was part of a series launched against the kingdom’s oil infrastructure, including sabotaged oil vessels in the Gulf of Oman and damaged pipelines.
“We promise more and wider attacks than the Shaybah oil field if the aggression continues,” Houthi army spokesman Yahya Sarea said in remarks carried by the rebels’ Masirah television channel. “We renew a call for companies and civilians to stay away from all vital sites in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
In a meeting in Tehran with a Houthi delegation headed by the group’s spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called for an immediate end to the Yemeni war, according to Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency. Mr. Zarif said Iran fully supported the U.N.-led peace process initiated in Sweden last year. The meeting was also attended by ambassadors from France, Germany, Italy and the U.K.
Despite limited damage, the drone attack is likely to deepen concerns about the security of energy facilities in the Middle East, which have been at the center of growing tensions between Iran and U.S. regional partners, chiefly Saudi Arabia.
Iran denies U.S. allegations that it was behind two attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, but has for weeks detained a British-flagged vessel on allegations of breaking maritime regulations. Iran seized the tanker after the overseas British territory of Gibraltar impounded an Iranian vessel carrying two million barrels of oil. U.K. authorities alleged the Iranian ship was headed for Syria in contravention of European Union sanctions.
Gibraltar authorities on Thursday released the Iranian tanker, but it remains in port after the U.S. Friday issued a warrant for its seizure. The U.S. Justice Department said the tanker’s mission would benefit Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, and it was illegally using the U.S. financial system.
Iran denies U.S. allegations that it funds and arms the Houthis, but routinely voices support for the rebels’ cause. As Iran has begun pushing back against U.S. economic pressure—seizing the British tanker and shooting down a U.S. drone—the Houthis have accelerated missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months.
Conducting more than a dozen such attacks on the kingdom since April, the Houthis have exposed Saudi vulnerabilities in defending itself, and highlighted the obstacles to a faltering international peace process to resolve the Yemen civil war. Since the government and the Houthis agreed late last year to a partial cease-fire in the port city of Hodeidah, brokered by the United Nations, peace efforts have been dormant.
The Houthi attack comes after the Saudi-led coalition suffered a dramatic setback elsewhere in Yemen, where Riyadh is trying to contain an uprising by southern separatists. The separatists, who are nominally part of the anti-Houthi coalition and backed by the United Arab Emirates, last week captured Aden, the seat of the Saudi-backed government, in a bid to secure an autonomous state.
—Saleh al-Batati and Summer Said contributed to this article.
Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org