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Saudi Pipeline Shut Down After Sophisticated Drone Attack

Published in Oil Industry News on Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Graphic for News Item: Saudi Pipeline Shut Down After Sophisticated Drone Attack

A MAJOR OIL PIPELINE IN Saudi Arabia was struck by armed drones and temporarily shut down, the kingdom's energy minister said Tuesday, calling the move an "act of terrorism and sabotage" that marks the second attack on the Saudi oil infrastructure in as many days.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih did not directly identify the perpetrator of the attack but said the incidents prove the importance of the kingdom's continued conflict against terrorist groups, including the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen, according to the country's state news service. Oil prices spiked as a result of the attacks, Reuters reports.

Saudi Arabia continues to wage war in Yemen against those militias in what is considered a proxy conflict between the oil-rich gulf state and its arch-rival Iran, which backs the Houthis. U.S. and allied intelligence assessments indicate Iran was also behind sabotaging two Saudi oil tankers on Monday.

The Yemeni military was not known to have developed armed drones, according to a global analysis by the think tank New America, making it likely the weapons were provided or operated by the rebels' patron, Iran.

These latest incidents contribute to a broad risk of escalation in the region. And they come as the Trump administration takes a new hard-line approach against Iran, dispatching new U.S. military assets to the region to counter what it considers a new threat from Tehran against American forces and their allies.

Iranian state media said Tuesday the pipeline attack in Saudi Arabia was carried out by "seven drones of Yemen's armed forces," citing an unnamed Yemeni source who said the operation was "retaliation for Saudi Arabia's aggression and siege of the impoverished Arabian Peninsula state."

The heavy-handedness of Saudi Arabia's operations in Yemen has indeed wrought international condemnation. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called the conflict and subsequent humanitarian crisis on the precipice of "imminent catastophe." The U.S., which had originally been providing intelligence, logistics and aerial refueling support since the conflict began in 2015, has since withdrawn some of its support to Riyadh based in part on human rights concerns.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday warned against so-called "false flag operations" that the U.S. and its Gulf allies wish to attribute to Iran, including the recent tanker attack.

Speaking with reporters in New Delhi after meeting with his Indian counterpart, Zarif said, "We discussed the regional issues and dangers that the policies of extremist individuals in the U.S. administration are trying to impose on the region, as well as concerns about the suspicious and sabotage acts that happen in our region," according to Iran's state news service, Fars.

"We had earlier predicted that they will adopt such measure to provoke tensions," Zarif said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Russia on Tuesday for talks that are reported to focus on Iran – an ally of Russia's in many Middle East conflicts – as well as arms control.

The potential for conflict between the U.S., Iran or their allies appears high, particularly following the Trump administration's unprecedented decision to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group last month. Tehran responded with a similar designation for all U.S. forces operating in the region.

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Both countries continue to slide away from the terms set in the 2015 nuclear agreement brokered by the Obama administration, which Trump declared last year the U.S. would walk away from. Tehran warned earlier this month that other signatories had 60 days to offer new terms. The deal, in addition to monitoring and limiting Iran's nuclear regime, also provided a forum for talks between the signatories.

The Trump administration continues to impose harsh new sanctions against Iran.

Analysts believe Iran's strategy in the region is based around support for local militant groups fighting in domestic causes that Tehran can ultimately steer toward supporting its own goals: defeating Saudi Arabia and undermining U.S. influence in the Middle East.

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"As tensions continue to escalate, further actions need to be weighed against Iran's sophisticated, intricate, and nimble regional strategy," private intelligence firm The Soufan Group wrote in a Tuesday analysis note. "Rolling back Tehran's regional influence is difficult because doing so would require the extensive application of military force, and even that option is not guaranteed to succeed, as the Saudi-led coalition is realizing in Yemen."

As public support for Middle East wars dwindles, the Trump administration has few options for military intervention that would ultimately blunt the effect of Iran's influence in the region, Soufan says.


Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia, Oil and Gas, Drone Attacks

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