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Saturday, September 21

Elijah J. Magnier's response to Houthi attack on Saudi Aramco


The last post he published, on the day after the attack, is titled Moqtada al-Sadr: A long love-hate relationship and features some truly wonderful photos; among them, this one of Mookie being diplomatic with the Saudi crown prince aka MbS:


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Trump's response to Houthi attack on Saudi Aramco

Look busy.

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Al Qaeda tried to carve a country out of Idlib Province. Guess who helped them?

"The core of the ‘Idlib opposition’ is made up of mercenaries, criminal gangs, and radicals. ... In 2017, Hayat Tahir al-Sham created the Syrian Salvation Government to administer the territory of Greater Idlib. The Salvation Government includes eight ministries: interior, justice, religious endowments, health, education, local administration and services, economy, development, and social affairs. It also has its own police force ..."

An 11 minute September 19 video report from SouthFront -- thankfully with an accompanying transcript -- is not what it seems from the title, GREATER IDLIB: IS SYRIAN ARMY ADVANCE INEVITABLE? Or rather it is so much more than an analysis of a particular military situation; it also summarizes how al Qaeda and its linked groups set out to install their own government within a sovereign country. 

A rational person, a decent person, might ask how this could have happened right under the noses of the American-led NATO coalition, ostensibly in Syria to rid it of the threat from terrorist groups. 

The answer is explained in Sam Heller's well-sourced report for the Century Foundation, Keeping the Lights on Rebel Idlib, published November 2016 and subtitled, "Local Governance, Services, and the Competition for Legitimacy among Islamist Armed Groups."

It happened because the European Commission and American government cooperated in making it happen. So while much of the funding for al Qaeda et al. to govern in Idlib came from a variety of external Sunni Arab Salafist supporters at both the state and individual levels, as SouthFront details, it was the ostensibly secular liberal democracies in the West that provided the groups with the technical assistance they needed. That's a point the SouthFront report tactfully does not mention, although it does observe:
Most of the members of other ethnic and religious communities (like Shias or Christians) were forced to flee from the area or were murdered by radicals controlling the area.
The report concludes with these observations:
Turkey is keen to prevent any possible advances of the government forces in Idlib. Therefore it supports further diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran to promote a ‘non-military’ solution of the issue. However, it does not seem to have enough influence with the Idlib militant groups, in particular HTS, to impose a ceasefire on them at the present time. Ankara could take control of the situation, but it would need a year or two that it does not have. Therefore, a new round of military escalation in the Idlib zone should not be very long in coming.

SouthFront Transcript


After over 8 years of war, the province of Idlib and its surrounding areas remain the key stronghold of radical militant groups in Syria. Over the past years, anti-government armed groups suffered a series of defeats across the country and withdrew towards northwestern Syria. The decision of the Syrian Army to allow encircled militants to withdraw towards Idlib enabled the rescue of thousands of civilians, who were being used by them as human shields in such areas as Aleppo city and Eastern Ghouta. At the same time, this increased significantly the already high concentration of militants in Greater Idlib turning it into a hotbed of radicalism and terrorism.
The ensuing attempts to separate the radicals from the so-called moderate opposition and then to neutralize them, which took place within the framework of the Astana format involving Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia, made no progress. A network of Turkish and Russian observation posts along the contact line and the demilitarized zone agreement did not allow a proper ceasefire to be established at the contact line between the government-controlled area and the militant-controlled territories. The August 2019 advance of the Syrian Army in northern Hama and southern Idlib led to the liberation of a large chunk of territory from the militants. However, strategically, the situation remained the same.
Idlib serves as home to a number of militant groups, who are engaged in constant competition for influence and resources. The most notable of these are:
  • Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) – the most influential group in Greater Idlib.
  • The National Front for Liberation – a Turkish-backed militant alliance created around Ahrar al-Sham to be an alternative power to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and promote Turkish interests in this part of Syria.
  • The Turkistan Islamic Party – an al-Qaeda-linked militant group founded by foreign jihadists, mainly Uighurs. The key ally of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
  • Hurras al-Din – the pro-al-Qaeda militant group allied with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Hurras al-Din’s main difference from its Big Brother is that it makes no attempt to hide its existing links to al-Qaeda.
Different sources provide different numbers regarding the manpower of militant groups operating in Idlib. The armed groups themselves provide contradictory and exaggerated numbers of their members to boost their popularity, intimidate rival factions and get additional funding from foreign sponsors.
In 2018, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford estimated that there were 20,000 or 30,000 militants inside Idlib. In 2019, the UN estimated that there were 20,000 fighters associated with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in Idlib. Sources linked with militants say that HTS has about 31,000 members. The same sources say that the total number of militants in Idlib is about 60,000. Most of the weapons and ammunition depots, tunnel networks, repair facilities, HQs and other infrastructure objects used by the militants are located in the countryside of the city of Idlib, and the towns of Saraqib and Maarrat al-Numan. Militants locate them near civilian areas intentionally, using the people living there as human shields.
Despite the observed diversity, no group seems able to challenge HTS dominance. In the period from 2016 to 2019, the group undertook active efforts to consolidate its military, political and economic control of the region. Competing factions were absorbed or just forced to accept the rules established by Hayat Tahir al-Sham. The Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation, created in May 2018, was unable to challenge the HTS expansion and had to be satisfied with the role of junior partner.
In 2017, Hayat Tahir al-Sham created the Syrian Salvation Government to administer the territory of Greater Idlib. The Salvation Government includes eight ministries: interior, justice, religious endowments, health, education, local administration and services, economy, development, and social affairs. It also has its own police force which, however, has limited responsibilities such as managing traffic, catching criminals, and solving disputes. Nonetheless, any notable security efforts in the area, like cracking down on ISIS cells which have pretty complicated relations with mainstream Idlib militants, always involve HTS forces.
All this has allowed HTS to take a grip of the region’s economy, controlling all key roads (primarily the M5 highway) and trade crossings – both with Turkey and across the frontline into government-controlled areas. When the Al-Ais crossing in Aleppo province was open, HTS was collecting taxes on those driving in and out of Idlib. 
The group also collects taxes from people that want to leave the Idlib zone via humanitarian corridors opened by the Damascus government with help from the Russian Military Police.
The major source of income is the Bab al-Hawa crossing with Turkey. HTS has imposed fees on all goods entering Idlib. These include clothes, food, fuel and its derivatives. HTS established strong ties with a wide network of traders, and reportedly has links even with the Watad Petroleum Company, which holds the monopoly on importing hydrocarbons from Turkey. 
Additionally, militants raise money through direct and indirect taxes imposed on business, shadow schemes of money transfer and currency exchanges. Businesses are obliged to comply with these conditions to ensure they can continue operating. The control over the flow of funds, fuel and repair parts allows HTS to be the most well-equipped and well-armed formation in Idlib, with the biggest fleet of heavy military equipment.
According to existing data, a part of HTS financing comes from external sources. Most the funding came from the charitable Salafi foundations in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and from high-ranking clerics and wealthy businesspeople in Jordan and Turkey who sympathize with the ideas of Salafi Islam. Experts estimate that the flow from foreign sources decreased after the conflict in Syria entered a relatively low-intensity phase in 2018. The flow of finances collected by armed groups through crowdfunding on social networks also decreased for the same reason. Therefore, HTS and other groups have been forced to rely more and more on local financial sources.
Before the conflict, the province of Idlib had a population of 1.5 million people. The UN says that some 3 million people currently live in Idlib. Most of them are Sunni Arabs, some are Syrian Turkomans protected by Turkey. 
Most of the members of other ethnic and religious communities (like Shias or Christians) were forced to flee from the area or were murdered by radicals controlling the area. 
Reports speculate that about 40% of the people now living in Greater Idlib come from other previously militant-held areas. These are current and former members of militant groups, their families and relatives. These predetermined the position of Idlib as the main hotbed of terrorism in modern Syria.
From the political point of view, the vast majority of the leadership of the Idlib militant groups and the entities affiliated with them align their policies with the attitude of Turkey. Publicly, they declare that the main goal of their efforts is the victory of the so-called Syrian Revolution and the reformation of the Syrian governance system under Sharia law. Nonetheless, these claims are just a formal part of the militants’ official propaganda. 
The actions of HTS and its allied groups during the past years demonstrate that they are in fact seeking to create a de-facto independent quasi-state under their own control and as a partial protectorate of Turkey. If the current situation in northwestern Syria would remain the same over the next 3-5 years, there is a high chance that Turkey would be trapped in conditions in which it would have to try to annex this territory. Thus, the Idlib radicals would achieve their main goal.
The irony is that HTS and its allies are by their own policies preventing this scenario. In the current conditions, the Idlib zone is a constant source of terrorist threats and instability. In all previous cases when Syrian and pro-Syrian forces ceased their offensive operations and started unilaterally fulfilling ceasefire agreements, Idlib armed groups immediately started making attempts to seize new areas, attack pro-government forces and prepare terrorist operations within the government-controlled area. 
Furthermore, the Idlib zone is the area where the most murderous part of the so-called opposition is concentrated. The core of the ‘Idlib opposition’ is made up of mercenaries, criminal gangs and radicals. 
It is not expected that the unilateral ceasefire declared by the Syrian Army in southern Idlib on August 31 will last for long. In the first half of September, militants already conducted several armed unmanned aerial vehicle attacks targeting positions of the Syrian Army and even Russia’s Hmeimim airbase.

Turkey is keen to prevent any possible advances of the government forces in Idlib. Therefore it supports further diplomatic cooperation with Russia and Iran to promote a ‘non-military’ solution of the issue. However it does not seem to have enough influence with the Idlib militant groups, in particular HTS, to impose a ceasefire on them at the present time. Ankara could take control of the situation, but it would need a year or two that it does not have. Therefore, a new round of military escalation in the Idlib zone should not be very long in coming.

[END TRANSCRIPT]

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Thursday, September 19

Yemen is also a graveyard of empires. Now they tell us.

From Bel Trew's The war to start all wars: Inside Yemen's troubled south; The Independent (U.K.), August 24, 2019: 
[...]
The scenes of quiet panic in Mahra underline the devastating complexity of Yemen, which has foiled so many past attempts by outsiders to control it.
The deeply divided society has been nicknamed the “new graveyard of empires”, winning it comparisons with those who have tried and failed to leash Afghanistan.

For southern Yemenis, it’s morphed into a joke that every four years there is a war in the south. Right now that is overdue.
“I expect the STC to try to take over provinces [east of Aden] like Abyan, Shabwah and they will keep marching east into the desert,” Huraizi continues grimly.
“They think they represent south Yemen – but they don’t. If they come here we will fight them. We are prepared.”

His prediction was eerily correct.
[...]
Where is Mahra? Uh, somewhere in south Yemen. Now who is Huraizi? Ali Salem al-Huraizi is a former deputy governor (of Yemen, I guess) and "border chief" in Mahra. More on him from Bel's report:
The controversial but powerful leader, with piercing, chatoyant eyes, is known as “the general” by loyalists who pen pop songs about him. He commands a legion of heavily armed Mahri men who see him as the last bulwark against the encroachment of Saudi Arabia into their province.
His critics, however, call him an anti-Gulf agitator and say he is backed by neighbouring Oman.
Chatoyant, a word I'd never come across before, means "of a gem, (especially when cut en cabochon) showing a band of bright reflected light caused by aligned inclusions in the stone." As to what chatoyant eyes look like -- here is Bel's photo of al-Huraizi for her report:



Yes, she didn't phone into Mahra; she put her eyes and camera on the scene.  A brave young journalist. 

Now how did Oman get involved in this? [squinting at a map of the Middle East] Oh I see. It's right next to Yemen -- and Saudi Arabia and UAE.


It's absolutely no use saying this, but it would be a help if there was some way to stop the U.S. government from allowing American weapons manufacturers to sell to other governments.  Because these people are really good at cranking out the merchandise, but the U.S. government is really bad at predicting the fallout. 

Well, read the rest of Bel's report if you want more of an idea of just what the U.S. government got involved with in Yemen when it supplied Saudi Arabia, and I suppose the UAE as well,  with a mountain of weapons.

Have a nice day. 

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Tuesday, September 17

Did 9/14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities come from inside Saudi Arabia?

Currently, there are 200 comments in response to Bernhard's analysis at Moon of Alabama titled, Damage At Saudi Oil Plant Points To Well Targeted Swarm Attack and of course everyone is guessing about how the attacks were done and where they were launched from, but I found the following four comments interesting. See the MoA post for aerial footage of the exact sites that were attacked.

BEGIN QUOTES

The suggestion that this was launched from inside the Saudi desert is a reason to think the Houthis did this. They are among the people most able to get into that desert, since it is on their border, and to cross those deserts, since they've been doing that for centuries. Few others can operate so well out in that desert.

Posted by: Mark Thomason | Sep 16 2019 10:37 utc | 7


In spite of a lot of details given, this news is fully inconsistent with other satellite images. Other reports of the incident show smoke rising from a different location more than 2 km southeast from the described separator tanks. At least one side is fabricating wrong facts. Judge for yourself, e.g.:

https://a57.foxnews.com/static.foxnews.com/foxnews.com/content/uploads/2019/09/640/320/saudi-oil-attack.jpg?ve=1&tl=1

Posted by: MWL | Sep 16 2019 11:48 utc | 19


Nowhere near an expert, but taking a look on Google Maps, the orientation of the holes on the tanks looks like an attack from the wrong side (ie it looks more likely it came from inside Saudi Arabia). A drone attack from the Iraq or Bahrain side would have travelled further and hit on the other side.

Given the level of precision, I wonder if the attack was launched much more locally - some short distance home-made drone that would fly over the fence with a maximum distance of about a mile from waste land outside the plant. The specific targeting on focused targets instead of indiscriminate scattered destruction would also suggest someone familiar with the plant, and a shorter distance attack flown by hand from nearby would require much less sophisticated equipment.

The photos of the plumes of smoke are also confusing. One is from somewhere outside the plant. And a second at the Haradh gas plant that is appearing in the media, is some 140 miles away from Abqaiq.

The plant was attacked previously by Saudi Al Qaeda affiliates in 2006 so it is a target for internal Saudi terrorists as well as external countries.

Posted by: Tess Ting | Sep 16 2019 11:56 utc | 22


Someone is faking facts. The provided Government / DigitalGlobe imagery is inconsistent with earlier satellite imagery of the smoke rising from a site about 2 km southeast of the alleged attack. The smoke did NOT rise from the shown separator facilities. ...

Posted by: MWL | Sep 16 2019 12:12 utc | 25

END QUOTES

Sunday, September 15

Egypt's President says what happened to Syria was planned

“The phenomenon of international terrorism is a monster that has become out of the control of those who launched it.” 
Yes. 
September 14, 2019
Cairo, SANA- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said that what took place in Syria was planned as terrorist organizations were used to destroy the country and a number of the countries in the regions.
During activities of the National Youth Conference held in Cairo Saturday under the title of ”Evaluating the Local and Regional Counter-Terrorism Experience,” el-Sisi added that terrorism was used to achieve political goals away from international legitimacy.
The Egyptian President affirmed that the cost of using terrorism to destroy countries is not high, pointing out that terrorism was used to target and destroy Syria and Libya.
He emphasized that a conventional war cannot destroy a state, but terrorism can do so.
El-Sisi said that without the existence of sponsors that adopt and back terrorism, this phenomenon would not have spread and succeeded in such way.
“The phenomenon of international terrorism is a monster that has become out of the control of those who launched it," the Egyptian President concluded.
Shaza/ Gh. A. Hassoun
[END SANA REPORT]

Time for a Sanity Pause


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Which idiot advised Trump to snub the UAE?

START QUOTES: 
... Instead of undermining Iran’s strategy to create another Lebanon in Yemen, we are now seeing three Lebanons ... 
The other message is for President Donald Trump, who alienated UAE officials by showing little interest in maintaining their relationship.
The nearly magisterial welcome Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad received in Washington DC in July reflected badly on US ties with Abu Dhabi. Some in the UAE (not surprisingly in Saudi Arabia too) grumbled about the president’s game to exploit the Gulf States’ feud and play his allies against one another.
Trump’s move rattled the Saudis and the Emiratis and prompted a defiant reaction, with the UAE unleashing the Yemeni southern separatists.
The UAE officials got it right. ...
END QUOTES

 Somehow I doubt that Trump cooked up the snub all on his own, given that he probably still can't locate Qatar, the UAE or Yemen on a map  -- or if this was indeed his brainstorm, where were his advisors? Chewing hashish brownies in the West Wing?

Saints preserve us; when it comes to the Middle East, the U.S. is like a giant thrashing around in quicksand. And of course, every time, the British and French and everyone else puts the U.S. at the top of their 'Who can we blame?' list. Pundita, calm down, but I just can't believe how stupid it was to snub the Emiratis especially at that time, how blind it was! 

All right, let's start from the top, seeing how lucky we are that in the wake of the Houthi drone strikes yesterday, the (U.K.) Independent dredged up a "consultant editor" on the Middle East who seems to have some idea about what has actually been going on with Saudi Arabia and the UAE regarding Yemen. However, from his own analysis, I am not so sure that a divorce isn't in the cards sometime soon, even though he concludes this isn't the case. And I recall that the issues between the two countries are actually existential and further clouded by the Emirati rejection of Saudi Wahabism.  

The oil drone attack shows how Saudi Arabia and the UAE are fighting their own battles in Yemen
By Ahmed Aboudouh
September 14, 2019
Independent

The marriage between Saudi Arabia and the UAE has long been on solid ground, but like any marriage, issues develop over time. 
From day one in Yemen, the two sides have had completely different agendas.
Saudi Arabia’s intentions were, for the most part, to thwart Iran’s relentless attempts to plant the Houthis - a loyal, Hezbollah-like Shia militia – on the Saudis’ southern borders.

The UAE has sought to free south Yemen from both the Houthis and al-Qaeda and later use the region as a launching pad for its own strategic influence in the Horn of Africa.
The picture now – including the stalemate in the strategic port of Hodeida – tells us that the Saudi policy has failed, while the UAE’s self-interests have increased [in success].
Instead of undermining Iran’s strategy to create another Lebanon in Yemen, we are now seeing three Lebanons – two controlled by Iran in Beirut and Sanaa, and a UAE-backed one in Aden. Saudi Arabia will also have to contend with unfriendly relations both near its northern borders with Iraq and the southern border with the Houthi-controlled north Yemen.
Yes, Yemen has become, in effect, two countries which are hostile to each other.
In the south of the country, there is a 90,000-strong militia, backed by the UAE. The Security Belt militia in the southern port city of Aden has taken over government positions – a government recognised by the UN and largely seen as a Saudi puppet – leaving Riyadh free of loyal Yemeni friends to rely on as a counterbalance with the Houthis’ well-entrenched power in the north.
The Saudis are under no illusion, however, that they will win the war. They, along with the Emiratis, have long concluded that the Yemen war is unwinnable, and have been looking for a way out.
But the Emiratis have acted faster and more decisively throughout. The Emirati troops’ withdrawal from Yemen may carry some meaningful de-escalation message to Iran. The Emiratis also avoided blaming Iran for standing behind the alleged harassment of ships in the Gulf waters. The other message is for President Donald Trump, who alienated UAE officials by showing little interest in maintaining their relationship.
The nearly magisterial welcome Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad received in Washington DC in July reflected badly on US ties with Abu Dhabi. Some in the UAE (not surprisingly in Saudi Arabia too) grumbled about the president’s game to exploit the Gulf States’ feud and play his allies against one another.
Trump’s move rattled the Saudis and the Emiratis and prompted a defiant reaction, with the UAE unleashing the Yemeni southern separatists.
The UAE officials got it right. The US is not ready (and is unwilling) to give its Gulf allies any security assurances. The UAE felt it had to make an immediate move in the south if they were to put an end to their costly and reckless intervention in Yemen.
However badly needed an exit from Yemen, the UAE’s withdrawal would leave the Saudis with no credible allies in Yemen, and scale back pressure on the Houthis, leaving them with more maneuvering space to launch yet more missiles and drones into Saudi Arabia.
Early on Saturday, drones attacked the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oilfield operated by Saudi Aramco, sparking a huge fire at a processor vital to global energy supplies.
Now, the ad-lib negotiations between the Americans and the Houthis are a reflection of the Emirati success in convincing the Saudis to find a face-saving way out of Yemen.
Although the Saudi-backed government authority is diminishing in Yemen, Saudi Arabia seems unable to hinder the Emirati control in the south. The Saudis have always seen the UAE presence in the south as part of the main operation against the Houthis, but the UAE still considers it an independent action.
The Southern Transitional Council’s new control over the port city of Aden showed that only the UAE has enough military power and local allied forces to pull the strings in the south. Relying on airpower for the past four years, Saudi Arabia seems completely out of touch and new to ground operations in the south, and in Yemen as a whole.
But Saudi Arabia is unlikely to stand by without a response to UAE control. Sources in the Gulf told me that a Saudi message has been sent to Qatar to reopen a bilateral dialogue to end the Gulf crisis. The Saudi move exasperated Abu Dhabi.
Although there are insecurities on both sides, the Saudi Arabia-UAE alliance remains solid on issues such as Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and Libya. Despite the growing issues, and as long as Iran is wreaking havoc on their doorsteps, divorce is still unlikely anytime soon.
[END ANALYSIS]
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Was a cruise missile included in Houthi 9/14 attacks on Saudi oil targets?

Well. That might explain how at least one of the oil storage units at the Abqaiq facility was breached, although we don't know at this time exactly how many of those units were successfully hit. Anyhow, the sharp-eyed Bernhard at Moon of Alabama has scooped up this eyebrow-raiser for his analysis of the Houthi attacks:
... But drones may not have been the sole cause of the incident. Last night a Kuwaiti fishermen recorded the noise of a cruise missile or some jet driven manned or unmanned aircraft coming from Iraq. Debris found on the ground in Saudi Arabia seems to be from a Soviet-era KH-55 cruise missile or from a Soumar, an Iranian copy of that design. The Houthi have shown cruise missiles, likely from Iran, with a similar design (see below). After an attack on Saudi oil installations in August, there were accusations that at least some of the attacks came from Iraq. Iran was accused of having been involved in that attack]. While this sounds unlikely it is not inconceivable. ...
There's lots more in Bernhard's discussion of reports about  the attack, including photos and all kinds of graphics -- and this mention:
Saudi Arabia said that the fires are under control. Video shot this morning shows that they continue.
Also, Bernhard is sticking by his prediction, made some days ago, that the Saudis will have to roll over and negotiate with the Houthi to end a war that is getting the better of the kingdom:
That attack in August was the checkmate move against the Saudi war on Yemen. As we wrote at that time:
Saudi Arabia has nothing that could stop mass attacks by these drones. It would require hundreds of Russian made Pantsyr-S1 and BUK air defense systems to protect Saudi oil installations. There would still be no guarantee that they could not be overwhelmed.
Saudi Arabia finally lost the war on Yemen. It has no defenses against the new weapons the Houthis in Yemen acquired. These weapons threaten the Saudis' economic lifelines.
But while I dislike repeating the warning I gave about Lavrov's claim that the Syrian War is over, we'll have to see.  If the U.S. can definitively implicate Iran in the 9/14 Houthi attack on the Saudi oil facilities, which they might be able to do if a cruise missile was involved, there's no telling what will happen next.

One question about Bernhard's report. He writes:
The second target was a processing plant near Khurais 190 km (118 miles) further southwest. It lies within the country's second-largest oil field.
As I mentioned last night, two reports on the attacks, one from AP and the other from Oil Price, state that the second attack was on the Khurais oilfield, not the nearby processing plant, and Debkafile is also reporting the strike was against the oilfield. But the attacks are still a fog-of-war situation, which Aramco might clear up in its promised assessment, due in less than 48 hours.

As to whether the Houthis could breach (and reach) the oil storage units just with drones, in theory, yes, from this comment at Sic Semper Tyrannis about the attacks (emphasis mine):

From Walrus:
I would think GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO is accurate enough for delivery to within about a 30 feet radius circle. The electronics are nothing special these days.
Launching would probably be via a rail with some sort of rocket booster maybe powered by an rpg motor or some sort of slow burn propellant (maybe from arty or mortar rounds?).
My WAG is that the speed of this thing is maybe no more than 100 - 150 mph and it’s powered by a piston engine burning maybe 10 litres per hour (another WAG) for 6 hours that means about 100 lbs of fuel (60 x .72 x 2.2). if the motor weighs about 25 lb, and allow about the same for a fibreglass airframe, we get a weight less warhead of about 150 - 170 lb for a still air range of about 600 statute miles.
Now add about 50 lb of explosive as a payload with some form of impact fuse and we have about a 220lb drone with a range of 600 miles that is too small and slow to be noticed.
I can’t imagine any precision guidance/armour piercing sophisticated munitions are used; all you would need for a fire is a lucky round to hit one of CBI’s finest tanks and boom - 10 million litres of flaming product.
I would imagine our intelligence services have a much better idea than my guess and would be concerned that other “entrepreneurs “ don’t copy the Houthi.
Our colleague, “Nuff said” suggested the ingredients were smuggled in and the Houthi built them themselves. That suggests they are building and launching in salvos as fast as they can. ...
As to what if anything the Israelis are saying about the attacks -- Debkafile claims they were launched from Iraq, which might lend weight to the fisherman's evidence:
DEBKAfile Exclusive: Early Saturday, Sept. 14, Yemeni Houthi rebels fired at least 10 drones against the Saudi Aramco’s biggest oil facility and second largest oil field from Iraq. Our sources report that they used pro-Iranian Shiite militia bases in southern Iraq ...
No mention of a cruise missile.

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Snowden interview on two mainstream US TV news shows this Monday

From Sputnik, today:

The whistleblower will appear on [network] CBS [between 7-9 am ET] and [cable] MSNBC [11 pm ET] this Monday, September 16. This is believed to be one of the first direct interviews with Snowden on US media in years.
Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor and the world’s most famous whistleblower, announced a small media campaign ahead of the publication of his book, "Permanent Record," on 17 September.
Snowden will join two US news shows; CBS This Morning and MSNBC’s 11th Hour with Brian Williams, where he will answer questions about his disclosure of classified US documents in 2013, which led to his involuntary exile in Hong Kong and, later, Russia, where he lives to this day.
The interviews will be one of Snowden's first direct interactions with US media in years, apart from an interview with HBO's John Oliver in 2015, according to The Hill.
In the upcoming book, Snowden will tell the story of his life, how he decided to turn whistleblower and his life in Russia.
"Edward Snowden, the man who risked everything to expose the US government’s system of mass surveillance, reveals for the first time the story of his life, including how he helped to build that system and what motivated him to try to bring it down," his publisher said about the book.
In 2013, Snowden leaked a trove of highly classified information from the National Security Agency regarding global surveillance programs conducted by the US government, sparking widespread concerns about national security and personal privacy.
[END REPORT]
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Saturday, September 14

Houthis claim they got targeting help from inside Saudi Kingdom

An Associated Press report timestamped three hours ago is the most detailed I've yet seen on the Houthi predawn drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities today. One item in the report, which I feature in full below, is an eyebrow-raiser: the Houthis claim they got targeting intel from inside the Saudi Kingdom. If they're telling the truth, this sheds a different light on a report from FARS, datelined September 11, that I'd dismissed as anti-Saudi, or at least anti-MbS, propaganda; it's headlined Arab Media: S. Arabia Building Dungeon under MbS Palace

If you're visualizing a medieval dungeon, no this one is ten stories high, underground. But it's possible the Saudi rulers know something about the situation in their country that we don't, and which the Houthi claim points to. 

Leading to the question, just how much suppressed opposition is there in Saudi Arabia to the present regime? 

Anyhow -- (Note that unlike other reports the AP report, and a report from Oil Price, claim that the other Houthi target was the Khurais oil field, not processing facilities near the oil field. Still a fog-of-war situation, and here's orientation from a FARS report: "Abqaiq, 60 km (37 miles) Southwest of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, contains the world’s largest oil processing plant. Khurais, 190 km further Southwest, contains the country’s second-largest oilfield."):


Saudi oil sites shut production after hit by Yemen’s Houthi drones
By The Associated Press via Market Watch
September 14, 2019 - 7:29 PM ET

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched drone attacks on the world’s largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oil field Saturday, sparking huge fires and halting about half of the supplies from the world’s largest exporter of oil.

The attacks were the latest of many drone assaults on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure assaults in recent weeks, but easily the most damaging. They raise concerns about the global oil supply and likely will further increase tensions across the Persian Gulf amid an escalating crisis between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.

The attacks resulted in “the temporary suspension of production operations” at the Abqaiq oil processing facility and the Khurais oil field, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. The fires “were controlled,” the statement said, and no workers were injured.

Officials said they hoped to restore production to its regular level of 9.8 million barrels a day by Monday.

“For now, markets are well supplied with ample commercial stocks,” the International Energy Agency tweeted, according to Reuters, saying it was in contact with Saudi authorities as well as major producer and consumer nations.

The fires led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels in crude supplies, according to the statement, which said part of that would be offset with stockpiles. The statement said Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant, would provide updated information in the next 48 hours.

The Iranian-backed Houthis, who hold Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and other territory in the Arab world’s poorest country, took responsibility for the attacks in the war against a Saudi-led coalition that has fought since 2015 to reinstate the internationally recognized Yemeni government. But the U.S. blamed Iran, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeting, “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

“Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo added.

In a short address aired by the Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel, military spokesman Yahia Sarie said the rebels launched 10 drones after receiving “intelligence” support from those inside the kingdom. He warned that attacks by the rebels would only get worse if the war continues.

“The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us,” Sarie said.

Houthi rebels have been using drones in combat since the start of the Saudi-led war. The first appeared to be off-the-shelf, hobby-kit-style drones. Later, versions nearly identical to Iranian models turned up. Iran denies supplying the Houthis with weapons, although the U.N., the West and Gulf Arab nations say Tehran does.

U.N. investigators said the Houthis’ new UAV-X drone likely has a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (930 miles). That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in range.

First word of Saturday’s assault came in online videos of giant fires at the Abqaiq facility, some 330 kilometers (205 miles) northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Machine-gun fire could be heard in several clips alongside the day’s first Muslim call to prayers, suggesting security forces tried to bring down the drones just before dawn. In daylight, Saudi state television aired a segment with its local correspondent near a police checkpoint, a thick plume of smoke visible behind him.

President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to offer his support for the kingdom’s defense, the White House said. The crown prince assured Trump that Saudi Arabia is “willing and able to confront and deal with this terrorist aggression,” according to a news release from the Saudi Embassy in Washington.

Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as “the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world.”

The facility processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then transports it onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea or to refineries for local production. Estimates suggest it can process up to 7 million barrels of crude oil a day. By comparison, Saudi Arabia produced 9.65 million barrels of crude oil a day in July.

“This is one of the biggest central processing facilities in the world. The Iran conflict is going to be hitting the world in a new way,” said Kevin Book, managing director, research at ClearView Energy Partners LLC.

The Khurais oil field is believed to produce over 1 million barrels of crude oil a day. It has estimated reserves of over 20 billion barrels of oil, according to Aramco.

There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend. Benchmark Brent crude had been trading at just above $60 a barrel.

There was no immediate impact on global oil prices as markets were closed for the weekend. Analysts warned though that the size of the loss could trigger a sharp rise in oil prices when markets reopen after the weekend, potentially spreading fears to the wider economy.

On Friday U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery CLV19, -0.05% fell 24 cents, or 0.4%, to settle at $54.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange—for a roughly 3% weekly decline, according to Dow Jones Market Data, tracking the front-active contract. November BRNX19, +0.05% shed 16 cents, or 0.3%, to $60.22 a barrel on the ICE Futures, with prices marking a weekly fall of 2.1%.

While Saudi Arabia has taken steps to protect itself and its oil infrastructure, analysts had warned that Abqaiq remained vulnerable. The Rapidan Energy Group, a Washington-based advisory group, warned in May that “a successful attack could lead to a months long disruption of most Saudi production and nearly all spare production.” It called Abqaiq, close to the eastern Saudi city of Dammam, “the most important oil facility in the world.”

In a report published Saturday, Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, noted that although Aramco officials have indicated that exports will resume in the next few days, “there is nothing to suggest that this is a one-off event and that the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels will forgo further strikes on Saudi sites.”

The war has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The violence has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and killed more than 90,000 people since 2015, according to the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.

The rebels have flown drones into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile batteries, according to Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged. The Houthis launched drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia’s crucial East-West Pipeline in May. In August, Houthi drones struck Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oil field.

[END REPORT]

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Update on Houthi drone attack today on Saudi oil facility and oilfield

Note that an AP report published at 7:29 pm ET, and a report from Oil Price, claim that the other Houthi target was the Khurais oil field, not processing facilities near the oil field as other reports I've seen maintain. Still a fog-of-war situation.

From RT, today:
Saudi Arabia confirms about half of Aramco's production interrupted due to drone strikes... Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the attacks crippled the facilities, forcing Saudi Aramco to partially halt crude and gas production, but the company was working on recovering the lost quantities and would give an update within 48 hours. The decrease in supplies would be partially compensated through the company’s oil reserves, the minister promised. ...
From WSJ via SST
Saudi Arabia is shutting down half of its oil production after drones attacked the world’s largest oil processing facility in the kingdom, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The closure will impact almost five million barrels of crude production a day, about 5% of the world’s daily oil production, the WSJ reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
For background see Houthi Drone Attacks on Saudi Aramco Oil Production Halt 5.7 Million Barrels Daily - Saudi Minister; Sputnik
The group attacked the Abqaiq and Khurais oil refineries with 10 drones, the biggest Houthi operation within Saudi territory to date
The Abqaiq facility is the largest in the world, but from this Oil Price report, it seems that the other target, Khurais, is an oil field not a processing facility, but we await clarification from the Saudis.
SST's report on the strike includes Colonel Pat Lang's commentary and several interesting remarks in the SST comment section. The Colonel observed:
Watch the al-jazeera video linked below. Some time ago, an "expert" on toy UAVs expressed an opinion on my FB page that the Houthis must be trucking these drones up to within a few miles of the target before flying them. This attack would seem to exclude this possibility.  The question of the size of the payload also is intriguing because of the amount of damage inflicted, and then there is the matter of the guidance system. 
This is a game changer.  pl
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6BgA54VZBk

Pundita note: The Al Jazeera video was posted May 14, 2019, in reference to two Houthi drone strikes on an east-west Aramco Saudi oil pipeline, but the video is helpful in conveying the size of the Abqaiq facility and the damage that today's drone strike did. 

As to how today's strikes were able to pierce the massive oil storage tanks, that's a good question, which an SST reader discusses in the comment section although the answer is still speculative.

As to Prince Abdulaziz, he's the new Saudi energy minister, and according to this Reuters report, a hawk on cutting OPEC oil production to keep oil prices, or at least OPEC,  from collapsing. On September 13 -- the day before the stunning Houthi drone attacks --Forbes reported, Opec Slides Closer To Collapse As An Oil Glut Overpowers The Oil Price.

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