Armed drones attacked two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in what Riyadh called a “cowardly” act by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, two days after Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
The drone strikes caused minor damage to one of the stations supplying a pipeline running from its oil-rich Eastern Province to the Yanbu Port on the Red Sea, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
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“These attacks prove again that it is important for us to face terrorist entities, including the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed by Iran,” Falih said.
A fire that broke out was later brought under control, but the country’s state-run oil giant Aramco stopped pumping oil through the pipeline.
Falih called the attack “cowardly”, saying recent sabotage acts against its vital installations not only target Saudi Arabia but the safety of the world’s energy supply and global economy.
He also promised the production and export of Saudi oil would not be interrupted.
Oil prices rose on news of the attacks on the stations, 320km west of the capital Riyadh. Brent was trading at about $71 up 1.2 percent.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said seven drones carried out the strikes on the Saudi oil installations.
“It was a successful operation. We found assistance from people living in Saudi Arabia, and we had excellent intelligence,” Saree said.
Andreas Krieg from King’s College London said the drone strikes show the Houthis are now capable of attacking far into Saudi territory. He called the incident “very significant” because the target was oil production.
“The Houthi capability has increased massively in recent years, some of it homegrown but [the attack] definitely suggests that the Iranians have helped out,” Krieg told Al Jazeera. “They’ve never been able to deeply penetrate Saudi Arabia… It looks like they are targeting the oil infrastructure.”
‘Worrisome and dreadful’
Earlier on Tuesday, a television station run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels said it launched drone attacks on Saudi installations, without identifying the targets or time of the attacks.
The attacks also occurred amid a war of words between the United States and Iran over sanctions and the growing American military presence in the Gulf.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday neither the United States nor Iran want war, adding Iraq is in contact with both, state news agency INA reported.
Iran was a prime suspect in Sunday’s sabotage off the UAE although Washington had no conclusive proof, an unnamed US official familiar with American intelligence told Reuters news agency on Monday.
Tehran denied involvement and described the attack on the four commercial vessels as “worrisome and dreadful”. It called for an investigation.
The Houthis have repeatedly launched drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and claimed to have launched strikes on the UAE.
“This large military operation is in response to the continued aggression and blockade of our people and we are prepared to carry out more unique and harsh strikes,” Al Masirah cited one Houthi official as saying.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the Western-backed alliance that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis in an attempt to restore the internationally recognised government.
Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say their revolution is against corruption.
Yemen’s conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians.
The fighting has triggered what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with 24.1 million people – more than two-thirds of the population – in need of aid.