On September 14th, 2019, a bomb rang out in Saudi Arabia, signaling a shock to the world. The sound of the bomb was carried by a drone that had been created by human ingenuity. Through this incident, the world was able to see how human creativity could turn into human cruelty. Yemeni rebels ‘Houthi’ claimed that they had carried out the oil attack in Saudi Arabia by using drones. They also warned of further attacks in the future through Al-Mashirah Broadcasting. Was this the first drone attack ever? Actually, it was not the first drone attack by Yemeni rebels against Saudi Arabia. The attacks have gone one steadily since January 2019. Let's now find out why the Yemeni rebels are attacking Saudi Arabia and how other countries are coping with the fallout.
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, has cut its oil production by half.
"On average, 5.7 million barrels of crude oil were disrupted a day," said Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz. An average of 5.7 million barrels of crude oil a day accounts for about 5 percent of the world's oil supply. Two of the main facilities of Saudi Arabia's national oil company ‘Aramco’ were directly damaged by the Yemeni rebels’ attack. This is the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field, which desulfurizes and refines crude oil. In the case of the Abqaiq oil processing facility
, it is considered to be the world's largest single facility. The Saudi government said it would temporarily suspend the operation of the two facilities. Moreover, it declared its plan to make up for the shortfall with supplies of surplus oil. The world, however, is trembling with fear that supply and demand may not be get back on track even if the Saudi government offers the stockpiled crude oil.
In the past, Houthi rebels were considered to have inferior weapons and skills compared to other armed groups. However, in the last two to three years, their offensive capabilities have been maximized to damage the world beyond Saudi Arabia. At the center of its offensive strategy are drones. The attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facility was carried out by an unidentified drone, causing international oil prices to rise. What should be noted, however, is that the incident caused by "using drones,” suggesting that the weaponization of military drones, which had been considered a foreboding future prospect, could be advanced. It also suggests that low-cost drones, not fighter jets or missiles, could pose serious harm to a country's core facilities. Actually, this is not the first terrorist attack carried out by drones. Last year, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was hit by a drone bomb that exploded in the air, injuring several soldiers. The attack was actually broadcasted live on television. Just a few years ago, terrorist attacks by drones existed merely as a "scenario." But now, drone-based terrorism is actually happening and causing serious damage. It is far more threatening than other forms of terrorism in that it is difficult to detect drone attacks in advance, and drones enable terrorists to approach and strike targets with precision. Military experts are concerned about the possibility of terrorist groups following the Yemeni rebels’ drone terror.
1. Why Did the U.S. Accuse Iran of Being Behind the Saudi Oil Attack?
Through the AFP, the Irani government stated that the U.S. was "false" to point to Iran as the mastermind behind the attack. Why did the U.S. point out Iran as the country behind the incident, even though Yemeni rebels claim they caused the attacks? The reason for this is that the Yemeni rebels are not well-versed in military (e.g., drone-controlled) technology. However, the main reason is that Yemeni rebels are supported by Iran in the ongoing Yemeni civil war. Most of the drones used in the attacks were burned, but analysis of the debris found that drone model candidate was Qasef-1. The Houthi claimed that they created the drone themselves, but after examining the various parts used, the inspectors assumed that the Yemeni militants modified Iran's drone model, Ababil-T (U.N. report of 2018). Also, an analysis of photos of the bombed Abqaiq oil processing facility, which were released by the U.S. government on September 15, reveals that the point of the drone's attack was on the facility’s North(-west) side. This, insists the U.S., suggests that Iran is likely to be the direction from which the drones flew in.
2. Endless Triangular Relationship – Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States
The incidents at the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field demonstrated the possibility of a Houthi air strike backed by the Irani government. The attacks also reveal the complacency with which people around the world have viewed drone technology. People have become poignantly aware of the global damage that can follow when vulnerable oil facilities are attacked. Yahya Sarea, a spokesman for the Houthi tribe in Yemen, warned, through the Beirut network, that the attack on September 14th had been coordinated by the people of Saudi Arabia and that they will continue to attack the country. As if in response, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on September 20th that he would send troops to “strengthen Saudi Arabia’s air and missile defense.” As of yet, the size of the troop dispatch has not been set. On that day, U.S. President Trump expressed the view that high levels of sanctions could be imposed on Iran, but he hopes that physical conflict may be avoided. However, Iran’s position is that they will counteract any attack to them. Hossein Salami, a commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, said, “We are fully prepared to face any attack.”
3. Where Did This Conflict Start From? Long-standing Enmity: Saudi Arabia and Iran
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are Islamic countries, but the Saudis are mostly "Sunni Islam" while Iranians are mostly "Shia Islam". Saudi Arabia, historically considered the birthplace of Islam, considers itself the leader of the Middle East. In 1979, the Islamic Revolution brought the two countries into collision, with Iran adopting a revolutionary theocratic political regime. Iran’s political system is not based on the democratic principle of the people having the right to run the country, but rather on the authority of an invisible god embodied in the political power of a 12-member "Committee for the Protection of the Islamic Constitution" and the nation's supreme leader. After the Arab Spring (2010), Iran and Saudi Arabia have been vying for regional leadership, with each one trying to expand its influence in the Middle East. Rather than engaging in total war, the two countries have opted for a proxy war, which is well illustrated by the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. (The two countries are still engaged in proxy wars, focusing on Yemen.) In the case of the Yemeni civil war, the Saudi, receiving logistical support by Western forces, have formed allied forces which support the Yemeni government in carrying out air strikes against the Houthi rebels. Against this backdrop, the rebels have been conducting drone strikes on a natural gas facility in Shoaiba since last month. What the attacks make clear is that the strained relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is causing heightened the tensions in the Middle East and beyond.
4. How is the World Moving? – Since Saudi Oil Attacks
After the terror attack occurred, international oil prices suddenly increased. In the case of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), oil prices reached $62.90 a barrel on September 16th, rising 14.7 percent ($8.05) compared to the previous trading. The 14.7 percent increase on this day marked the largest increase since December 2008. The following day, however, the Saudi government reported that damage from the incident would take about two to three weeks to recover. WTI for October fell about 2.1 percent ($58.11) a barrel after Saudi Arabia's oil production facilities were found to be normalized at the end of September.
Despite recovering international oil prices, countries that relied on Saudi Arabia for crude oil have been seeking new solutions. According to the Japanese newspaper ‘Nihon Keizai’, the Japanese government has decided to invest 1 trillion yen (11 trillion won) into the LNG development project to reduce its dependence on crude oil in the Middle East. This is because LNG, unlike crude oil, has a relatively diverse production area, which is expected to pose low geographic risks. As for China, which is known to be the world's largest importer of crude oil (more than 70 percent dependence on imports), it appears to be the biggest victim of the terrorist attack. Because of the U.S-China Trade War, China has reduced U.S. oil imports and replaced most of them with Saudi oil. Zhang Jianhua, director of China's National Energy Bureau said, "China will reduce its dependence on imports of crude oil in the future and increase investment to increase domestic oil production." However, it is not expected to replace Saudi Arabia's crude oil at the moment, which has caused much concern.
A total of 10 drones were used by Yemeni rebels. The incident has provided yet another meaning of terrorism, although drones may also be useful for military purposes. From now on, the world needs to be prepared for this. In the Middle East, many places are being damaged by a constant check of power. Even if religious reasons are the beginning, Iran's share of the oil market and the hegemonic war within the Middle East show no sign of an end. However, despite the damage, the struggle for the possessory right of the oil market between Iran and Saudi is not ending. They are also in constant disputes over hegemony in the Middle East. It is now a proxy war, but if the two countries wage a total war, it will turn into a huge war involving many countries. At that time the damage will not only affect these two countries but also various countries around them.