The Iranian-backed Houthis are shifting their attacks aggressively to Saudi oil and energy facilities. This pattern began back in September 2019 when Iran launched attacks on Abqaiq in Saudi Arabia using drones and cruise missiles. The Houthis, with Iranian assistance, extended the attacks to Ras Tanura on March 7. A storage tank in Jazan was targeted on March 26, according to reports. There were attacks also reported on Friday, March 19 in the Saudi capital aimed at a refinery.
While not everything is known about the recent pattern of attacks, what is clear is that it is a series of strikes aimed at oil and energy facilities linked to Aramco using drones and missiles. The Houthis have been fighting Saudi Arabia since Riyadh intervened in Yemen in 2015. The war has gone through stages. Iran has supplied the Houthis with increasingly sophisticated know-how to achieve better precision and range with drones and cruise missiles. According to sources close to the conflict, some of the attacks that Iran and the Houthis claim as “Houthi” attacks are actually carried out from Iraq or even Iran and the Houthis merely provide the “plausible deniability” so that Iran is not seen as attacking directly. In this the Houthis have become a proxy of Iran. The US has warned about this in the past, even establishing an Iran Materials Display in Washington which was often highlighted during the last administration.
The current US administration has sought to end the conflict in Yemen. This has not been easy, however, because the Houthis took that as a signal that Riyadh was losing US support and the Houthis, with Iran’s advice and backing, gambled on a wider war. They launched an offensive on Marib in Yemen and on Saudi Arabian facilities. The attacks have increased. This is not because there were no attacks in the past. Hundreds of drones and missiles have rained down on Saudi Arabia since 2015. Air defense systems like Patriots have intercepted them. One report even suggested Israel advise or help Saudi Arabia with air defense as part of the warming ties.
The Houthis shifted strategy against the Aramco facilities in the last month after a warning they would do so. Now the Houthis say they have attacked several Saudi Aramco facilities with drones and missiles. They say they struck at Ras Tanura, the largest oil-export terminal, and Yanbu, Jazan and Rabigh. This report was broadcast by the Houthis and Iran media picked it up. Usually Iranian IRGC-linked media coordinates with the Houthis’ Al-Masirah TV. In this case 12 drones and 8 missiles were used and an additional 6 drones targeted the city of Najran.
Saudi Arabia said it intercepted a missile in the early hours of March 26 in Najran. It said that oil facilities at Jazan which consist of an oil terminal were attacked Thursday.