The shadowy forces attacking civilian targets in Saudi Arabia

The two-pronged attack on oil-production facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais in the Eastern Province was the biggest on oil infrastructure since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. (AFP)
Updated 16 September 2019

The shadowy forces attacking civilian targets in Saudi Arabia

  • Saturday's coordinated attack on Saudi Aramco oil installations marks a sharp escalation
  • Targets have included Makkah, airports, pipelines, desalination plants and oil facilities

ABU DHABI: When drones targeted the facilities of Saudi Aramco on Saturday, they signaled not only a new phase of a terror campaign against Saudi Arabia but also the determination of malign regional actors to disrupt global oil supplies, cripple energy-reliant economies and stir Middle East tensions.
The two-pronged attack on oil-production facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais in the Eastern Province was the biggest on oil infrastructure since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Responsibility for scores of attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia involving rockets, drones and ballistic missiles has been claimed by Iran-backed Houthi militias since 2015. Saudi forces are part of a military coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen.
The targets have included the holy city of Makkah, airports, royal residences, oil pipelines, desalination plants and oilfields.
A number of tankers in busy oil lanes have also been subjected to mysterious sabotage attacks involving mines, while commercial vessels have been harassed or seized by Iranian security forces.

Opinion

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Experts say world leaders need to close ranks to put an end to the undeclared war of aggression and bring the faceless perpetrators to heel.
Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, says the attacks on vital installations represent a “really dangerous development” that Saudi Arabia and the wider world cannot afford to “sit back and let happen.”
“This is provocation, plain and simple,” he told Arab News. “This is a very serious escalation as it was an attack designed to cause major harm. Whoever did this knew it was provocation — and that a reaction is also guaranteed.
“Saudi Arabia will not be able to sit back and just let attacks like this happen. Attacks of this kind threaten a country’s economy, its sovereignty, its integrity — however you look at it.”
The Houthis said they carried out Saturday’s attacks with the help of 10 drones. But Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, suggested the projectiles may have been launched from another country. Along with Yemen, Iran has proxy forces in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — a policy that has long been blamed for causing instability in the region.
“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo said on Twitter. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”
The Arab coalition fighting to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government said it was investigating who was behind the attacks.
According to Jim Hanson, president of the Security Studies Group, “the attacks were likely to have been launched from Iraq and done by Hashd Al-Shaabi militias in cooperation with their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) handlers.”
He said: “The distance from Houthi territory in Yemen is likely too far for the strikes to have come from there. The US should coordinate with Saudi Arabia to ensure the most effective response. Talk alone is not enough; this calls for action.”
However, Iraq’s prime minister has denied reports that Iraqi territory “was used for drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities.”
In a statement issued on Sunday, Adel Abdul-Mahdi said: “Iraq is constitutionally committed to preventing any use of its soil to attack its neighbors. “The Iraqi government will be extremely firm with whoever tries to violate the constitution.”

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, said Saturday's incidents caused an interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil - or about half of the Kingdom's oil capacity, equivalent to five percent of the daily global oil supply. He confirmed there were no injuries to staff at the locations targeted.
According to Saudi Aramco, the Abqaiq facility is the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world which processes more than seven million bpd of crude. The plant plays a vital role in removing sulphur impurities and reducing vapor pressure of the crude in order to make it safe for being transported by tankers.
The damage also led to the knockout of the production of two billion cubic feet of associated gas daily, used to produce 700,000 barrels of natural gas liquids.
A Refinitiv media advisory said "with the global demand forecasts being revised downwards on the back of trade wars and economic downturn, the impact on prices is expected to be limited unless further clarity on the extent of damage indicates a significant impact on Saudi Arabia’s production and exports."
Commenting on the chances of a recurrence of such attacks, Mekelberg said: “If they do happen again, then the implication for the Gulf is huge. It could lead to great escalation and even war in the Gulf although I do not think this is something anyone wants.
“They will lead to not only Saudi Arabia but other countries, such as the US, to react.”
Moving forward, Mekelberg said, “We need to go back and look at all the issues in the region — and try and solve them diplomatically. We have to try and prevent further violence — before things get out of hand.”


UK ambassador reflects on five ‘big years’ in Saudi Arabia

Outgoing UK Ambassador Simon Collis speaks during an interview with Arab News in Riyadh. (AN photo by Saleh Al-Ghanem)
Updated 27 January 2020

UK ambassador reflects on five ‘big years’ in Saudi Arabia

  • Gap between perception and reality of Kingdom, says Simon Collis

RIYADH: Britain’s outgoing ambassador to Saudi Arabia said it has been a privilege to be in the country for the last five years and witness the changes in the Kingdom firsthand.

Simon Collis joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1978 and has been an ambassador in Iraq, Syria and Qatar. He has also held senior diplomatic positions in Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Dubai and India.
His diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia began a week after King Salman came to the throne in January 2015. A personal highlight was performing the Hajj in 2016 with wife Huda.
The five years that we’ve been here have been five big years, not only for us but five big years ... in the history of Saudi Arabia and certainly in the relationship with the UK,” he told Arab News. “It’s been just a wonderful time.”
He said there used to be concern about the role of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, known as the Mutawa’a or religious police, and its unchecked power.
“There were people that would be nervous about it. There was no music in public places, there was no mixing in restaurants. In 2015 no one would have imagined just how much these changes would be, first with (the reform plan) Vision 2030, then economic, and also social changes, women driving, the removal of the guardianship laws across pretty much everything, and the balancing role of the Mutawa’a.”
He welcomed the government’s emphasis on developing the entertainment and cultural sectors, calling it a “tremendous story,” and said he had enjoyed witnessing the Kingdom’s transformation.
“To see the enthusiasm in a young country, I think a lot of these new sectors, creative entertainment, on top of the existing ones like education, have been a delight to see. Of course, it’s not finished yet. I think this period, these five years, will look like a big moment in the history of the Kingdom.”
Changes in the Kingdom have attracted interest — and greater visitor numbers — from overseas.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Simon Collis joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1978 and has been an ambassador in Iraq, Syria and Qatar.

• He has also held senior diplomatic positions in Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Dubai and India.

• His diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia began a week after King Salman came to the throne in January 2015.

• A personal highlight was performing the Hajj in 2016 with wife Huda.

The country is gaining a reputation for hosting massive events featuring the world’s biggest names including boxing match Clash On The Dunes pitting Britain’s Anthony Joshua against Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr, the electronic dance music festival MDL Beast featuring David Guetta and Steve Aoki, and concerts from K-Pop megastars BTS and Super Junior.
The ambassador said there was a gap between the perception of the Kingdom and the country’s on-the-ground reality.
“In any country, there is a gap between the perception that the image that exists in the world, and the reality that you find. This is true of any country. That gap between the perception and reality has been bigger in relation to Saudi Arabia than to any other country that I’ve lived in. So, the result is once people visit and they see for themselves, then they change their overall perception. They change their minds, and this is a very powerful thing.”
Tens of thousands of UK nationals visit the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah every year to perform Hajj and Umrah, but the reasons to visit the country are increasing.
Collis said that 43,000 people from the UK had taken advantage of a new e-visa system launched last October to visit Saudi Arabia, the highest number in the world.
“Every year we’ve seen the number of Saudi nationals visiting the UK increase, now it’s coming the other way,” Collis said. “With a population of less than 70 million, and it’s the No. 1 country visiting Saudi Arabia more than any other country, I’m very proud of that. I would say that of the hundreds and thousands of British people who I have met visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time, every single person I have met has left with a more positive (outlook) than the one that they arrived with. So, more visits must mean more people have a better idea of the realities of this country, society and its people.”
Collis said he had met many Saudis and forged friendships with them. People in the Kingdom had integrity and were straightforward, and the ambassador had special praise for the younger generation saying there was a “natural enjoyment” when he sat with them to talk. They were very aware, he added.

NUMBER

43,000 - people from the UK had taken advantage of a new e-visa system launched last October to visit Saudi Arabia, the highest number in the world.

His regard for young Saudis is evident. He launched the Alumni Awards, which recognize Saudi students who have returned to the Kingdom, excelled and succeeded in their professions or made an impact in their communities. With more than 100,000 Saudis studying in the UK over the last 10 years, the program will be developed in order to increase engagement with them once they return to Saudi Arabia.
The national and global awards initiative is aimed at showcasing the impact and value of a UK higher education, and winners and finalists are leaders in their fields.
“The Alumni Awards are fun. What the award looks at, whether it’s an entrepreneur or professional or social category, it’s not what did you do in the UK with your studies, it’s when you got your qualification, what did you do in Saudi Arabia when you came back. How did you use it? It’s about what use you put it to, not what you get, but how did you use it to further your own career, your life and that of your community and others around you,” Collis said.
Collis is succeeded as the UK’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia by Neil Crompton, who takes up the role next month.