By Anthony Di Paola and Mohammed Hatem
Mar 26, 2022, (Bloomberg) –A Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen launched airstrikes against sites in the southern Arabian country in response to multiple attacks Friday, including one that caused a fire at an Aramco fuel depot in Jeddah.
Coalition forces targeted sites early Saturday including Ras Eissa port and electricity and fuel installations in Yemen’s Hodiedah province, as well as military sites in the capital, Sanaa, according to Houthi-run Al-Masirah TV.
The coalition said it targeted drones that were being prepared at the ports of Hodiedah and Saleef, according to state-run news agency Saudi Press Agency. It also targeted four boats being readied for assault at Saleef, thwarting “an imminent attack on oil tankers,” SPA said.
Three Houthi experts in booby-trapping and launching boats were killed, SPA said. The operation is ongoing and the coalition is giving the Houthis a deadline of three hours to remove all weapons from the ports of Hodiedah and Saleef, and Sanaa airport.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who’s scheduled to meet regional leaders this weekend, condemned attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi. Washington has been criticized by the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates for responding too slowly to Houthi aggression and pursuing nuclear negotiations with Iran. Blinken is scheduled to meet the UAE’s de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, in Morocco.
Other bombings that targeted Saudi Arabia last weekend and the UAE in January and February indicate an escalation in regional violence at a time when energy prices are surging and regional alliances are being tested following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The U.S.’s Gulf allies have so far resisted calls to pump more oil and haven’t supported western sanctions against Russia, in part due to a reluctance to see a new Iran nuclear deal reached.
Jeddah is not in Saudi Arabia’s main oil-producing region, although Aramco has suffered attacks at the heart of its energy industry previously. Strikes in September 2019 briefly knocked out about half of Saudi oil production when missiles hit processing units at the Abqaiq and Khurais facilities in the country’s east.
Saudi Arabia is hosting a Formula 1 race in Jeddah this weekend, a major part of the kingdom’s tourism push. Hitting Jeddah ahead of the sporting event could tarnish the image the country is looking to develop as a business and leisure destination, and highlights the risks of a continuation of the Yemen war.
The race will go ahead despite the attacks, Formula 1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali told participating teams, according to the Telegraph.
In Friday’s attack, an oil storage facility in Jeddah was hit by a barrage of drones. It was a marked escalation of tensions in one of the world’s most important regions for oil shipments.
Fuel tanks at state oil producer Saudi Aramco’s North Jeddah Bulk Plant caught fire, Saudi defense ministry spokesman Turki al-Maliki was by cited by the Saudi Press Agency as saying. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed a series of attacks on Aramco facilities on Friday, sending oil prices higher.
The storage site targeted in Jeddah is focused on domestic needs, limiting the impact on the global crude market. Still, the attacks spooked oil traders, with crude already above $100 a barrel and the market tight. Saudi Arabia warned this week that oil supplies are at risk, and called on the U.S. to do more to counter attacks from the Houthis — a message it reiterated Friday.
“This aggressive escalation targets oil facilities and is meant to try to affect energy security and the global economy,” al-Maliki told the official Saudi Press Agency after the attack.
Aramco media officials were not immediately available to comment. An energy ministry spokesman was cited by the Saudi Press Agency as confirming the Jeddah attack and another at Jazan in the south. There were no casualties.
Aramco closed its only refinery in Jeddah in 2017, with most of its infrastructure in the city focused on fuel distribution. The Houthis have regularly targeted a 400,000 barrel-a-day refinery at Jazan, further to the south and near the Yemeni border, apparently without having caused any major damage there.
–With assistance from Kateryna Kadabashy, Matthew Martin, Salma El Wardany, Brian Wingfieldand Abeer Abu Omar.
© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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