DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Saudi Araba said drones attacked one of its oil pipelines as other assaults targeted energy infrastructure elsewhere in the kingdom on Tuesday, May 14, shortly after Yemen’s rebels claimed a coordinated drone attack on the Sunni power.
The assaults marked the latest incidents challenging Mideast security after the alleged sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates earlier this week amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, whom Saudi Arabia has been fighting against since March 2015, said they launched a series of drone attacks on the kingdom, across the border from Yemen. The spokesman of the rebels, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, told The Associated Press: “This is a message to Saudi Arabia, stop your aggression.”
In a statement carried on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said that drones attacked a petroleum pumping station supplying a pipeline running from its oil-rich Eastern Province to the Yanbu Port on the Red Sea.
A fire broke out and firefighters later brought it under control, though the state-run Saudi Aramco stopped pumping oil through the pipeline.
The kingdom’s state security body also said two petroleum pumping stations in the greater region of Riyadh, the landlocked capital, were targeted at the same time. The statement described it as a “limited targeting” of petroleum stations in areas al-Duadmi and Afif in the Riyadh region, without elaborating.
Al-Falih called the attack “cowardly,” saying that recent sabotage acts against the kingdom’s vital installations not only target Saudi Arabia but the safety of the world’s energy supply and global economy. He said this reaffirms the need of the international community to confront the activities of groups like the Houthis. He also promised the production and export of Saudi oil would not be interrupted.
Benchmark Brent crude traded at $71 a barrel Tuesday, up $1.27 on the day.
The attack on Saudi oil targets comes after four oil tankers anchored in the Mideast were damaged by what Gulf officials described as sabotage, though satellite images obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday showed no major visible damage to the vessels.
The U.S. has warned sailors of the potential for attacks on commercial sea traffic, and regional allies of the United Arab Emirates condemned the alleged sabotage as the tankers were off the coast of the UAE port city of Fujairah.
The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Mideast and operates from a base in Fujairah, has repeatedly declined to comment.
The U.S. already had warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region. America is deploying an aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged, still-unspecified threats from Tehran.
Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.
The oil tankers were visible in satellite images provided Tuesday to the AP by Colorado-based Maxar Technologies. A boom surrounded the Emirati oil tanker A. Michel, indicating the possibility of an oil leak. The other three showed no visible major damage from above.
This isn’t the first time Yemen’s Houthis have used drones as weapons—a bomb-laden drone launched by the rebels exploded over a military parade in January for the Saudi-led coalition, killing at least six people.
Those drones have been flown into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile batteries, according to the research group Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged.
Such drones remain difficult to shoot down with either light or heavy weapons. Iraqi forces learned this from driving out the ISSI terrorist group from northern Iraq, where the extremists would load drones with grenades or simple explosives to target their forces.
By Aya Batrawy And Jon Gambrell