Drones Laden With Explosives Used In 'Act of Terrorism' Against Saudi Oil Pipelines

A general view shows a new plant inaugurated March 22, 2006 in Haradh, about 280 kilometers (170 miles) southwest of the eastern Saudi oil city of Dhahran. AFP/Getty Images

Iran-backed rebels have claimed responsibility for an attack using drones laden with explosives against crucial Saudi oil infrastructure in an incident described by Riyadh as terrorism.

Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Khalid Al Falih, has deemed the attack against oil pumping stations on the nation's vital East-West Pipeline as "an act of terrorism." According to the Financial Times, Iran-backed Houthi Rebels, against whom Riyadh has waged war since 2015, claimed responsibility.

Before Saudi authorities acknowledged the attack, a Yemen-based television channel owned by the Shiite Houthi militia said the attack had been carried out by a total of seven drones.

Although no further details about the attack were provided, the broadcast promised "continued aggression" and further strikes. The strike came just one day after it emerged that two Saudi Arabian oil tankers, one Norwegian and one from the United Arab Emirates, were damaged near the Persian Gulf, off the coast of Saudi ally UAE.

The Associated Press quoted one unnamed U.S. official as saying either Iran or its allies had used explosives to blow holes in the ships, according to a U.S. military assessment. Officials in the Gulf referred to the attack as "sabotage" but stopped short of implicating Tehran in the operation.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam has said, following the most recent attack on Saudi's overground pipeline infrastructure, that the Arabian monarchy must end its aggression in Yemen. "Our goal is to respond to the crimes they are committing every day against the Yemeni people," Abdel-Salam told the AP.

The development in Saudi's local conflict with the Houthis opens a new front in its regional struggle with Iran. The East-West Pipeline was partly designed as a contingency against Iran blocking Saudi oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

The earlier attack on the ships near the Persian Gulf showed the ability of Iran and its allies to disrupt the commercial shipping lane. Today's drone strike showed Saudi Arabia's second supply line was also vulnerable.

"It cannot be a random attack. This is a very sophisticated operation that requires knowledge and planning," Anas Alhajji, an adviser to oil companies and oil-producing nations, told the Financial Times.

The attack on the pipeline came amid mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington as the U.S. Navy increased maritime pressure on Iran. The U.S. deployed its aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to check what it has referred to as threats from Iran.

Hostilities between Iran and the U.S. have intensified for more than a year now, after President Donald Trump's administration pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for assurances that Iran would rein in its nuclear program.

Tehran's support for the Houthis and its supply of weapons to the proxy in the Arabian Peninsula was cited by White House officials as one way Iran had reneged on the spirit of the 2015 deal. The landmark diplomatic agreement was brokered under Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama.