Iran-backed Houthi Rebels Attack Saudi Oil Facility One Day After Reported Secret MBS-Pompeo-Netanyahu Meeting

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have launched a fresh strike against an oil facility target in Saudi Arabia, inflicting significant damage and raising tensions in the Gulf shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left the region after visiting both Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The Houthi movement, funded and armed by Tehran, struck a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station in the city of Jeddah using a cruise missile according to a Houthi military spokesman on Monday.

Yahya Sarea said the Houthis used a Quds 2 cruise missile and warned that foreign companies and residents in Saudi Arabia should exercise caution as "operations will continue." He added that the strike was retaliation for Saudi Arabia's continued military activities in Yemen, where the kingdom is battling the Houthis in support of the government ousted by the rebels in 2014.

A Saudi ministry of energy official told Reuters that the attack caused a fire in a fuel tank at a petroleum products distribution station in northern Jeddah, but that the blaze was extinguished with no casualties. Reuters also quoted an unnamed Aramco official who said the targeted tank comprised 10 percent of all stored fuel.

The Quds 2 missile is a newer version of the Houthi Quds 1, which has been repeatedly used to attack Saudi targets possibly including the 2019 attack on Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia.

The Quds 1 is based on the Iranian Soumar missile, and is one of the many weapons that the U.S. and its allies have accused Tehran of supplying to the rebels in Yemen.

Houthi strikes in Saudi Arabia have increased since a coronavirus truce ended in May. Two weeks ago, for example, the Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted two Houthi explosive-packed boats in the southern Red Sea.

This week's attack came just one day after Pompeo met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, where the monarchy was hosting the G20 summit. Israeli media reports said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also attended the Sunday meeting, though this was denied by the Saudi foreign minister.

Such a meeting would be the first between leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia. The two countries do not have diplomatic relations and Riyadh—like the rest of the Arab world—has traditionally refused to engage with Israel due to its continued occupation of Palestinian land.

But the Iranian threat and the inability to find a solution to the Palestinian issue has prompted a new generation of Gulf leaders to look beyond generational enmity and towards closer cooperation with Israel and the U.S., plus the economic and defense benefits that could bring.

Pompeo's trip—widely described as a farewell tour—is also to cement and celebrate the U.S.-mediated Abraham Accords; historic deals signed by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalizing ties with Israel.

There has been speculation that Saudi Arabia may follow suit, which would be a huge diplomatic coup for Israel and the U.S. but potentially deeply damaging for Riyadh's reputation in the Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Houthis, Yemen
Men look at a damaged silo following an attack at the Saudi Aramco oil facility in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea city of Jeddah on November 24, 2020. FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty