RPT: ANALYSIS - Saudi Aramco IPO Delay Main Aim Of Drone Attack From Yemen

MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 18th September, 2019) OSCOW, September 18 (Sputnik), Anastasia Dmitrieva - The recent drone attack by Houthis on Saudi oil facilities aimed to decrease the kingdom's financial stability and ability to fund the war in Yemen by possibly stalling Saudi Aramco's IPO plans, experts told Sputnik.

On Sunday, the drone attack on Saudi Aramco made the Saudi Arabian national oil company shut down its Abqaiq and Khurais facilities, thus cutting the net oil output more than in half. Although the responsibility was claimed by the military wing of Yemen's Ansar Allah movement, also known as the Houthis, the United States has put the blame on Iran. Tehran has refuted the accusation.

Saudi Arabia and the Houthis have been regularly exchanging attacks since 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition joined the military action in Yemen. The Yemeni armed conflict between government forces, led by President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi, and the Houthis has been ongoing since 2011.

ATTACKS AIM TO DELAY SAUDI IPO, UNDERMINE FINANCES

Despite various speculations on who carried out the drone attack on the Saudi oil infrastructure, experts agree that the main reason for the strikes was Saudi Arabia's involvement in airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen as part of its coalition.

"Yemen carried out the attack. Saudis have become incompetent. The reason for the attack is that Saudis have been waging war for 4.5 years now, imposing starvation on the country, Yemenis are fighting for their survival," Mohammad Marandi, a professor at University of Tehran, told Sputnik.

He added that the drone attack was aimed at stalling public listing of Saudi Aramco and therefore undermining the country's financial ability to fund their military operations.

"Saudis want to sell shares of Aramco. The timing of the attack was linked to that and to prevent Saudis from increasing their financial capability to continue the war against their people," Marandi explained.

His view was mirrored by another expert who argued that the incident also lowered chances of US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani meeting at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly.

"The attack may have been intendedamong other motives such as spreading fear and instability with the kingdomto stall Saudi Aramco's upcoming IPO and thereby hurt KSA financially in the coming months and year in addition to the near-term loss of revenue from a slowdown in immediate oil sales. The attack also reduces the likelihood of a meeting between presidents Trump and Rouhani at the upcoming UNGA even though the urgency for such a meeting has risen considerably," Jamsheed Choksy, professor at Indiana University, told Sputnik.

According to Muhammad Sahimi, professor at the University of Southern California, the Houthis wanted to demonstrate that "the era of one-sided attacks was over" and that they can also respond and cause pain to Riyadh.

The Saudi airspace is protected by US-made Patriot surface-to-air missiles and radars, but the recent drone attack showed a breach in the US equipment when it comes to small objects like drones. Consequently, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Saudis to buy Russian-made S-300 or S-400 air defense missile systems.

Nevertheless, Riyadh's failure to protect its oil facilities from such an attack showed their weak spot that may be hurt again in the future.

"Whether by drones, missiles, or a combination, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's security around its oil facilitiesin addition to its airportshas been shown to be wholly inadequate to defend against foes irrespective of whether those opponents are non-state or state actors. Asymmetric warfare has historically been difficult to counter," Choksy said.

The professor warned that similar offensive technologies have become very cheap and highly mobile, increasing chances of them being acquired by groups and nations and used again.

"The Houthis have boasted, via their media outlets, that more attacks will be forthcoming," he said.

However, Sahimi, another expert, disagreed with this statement.

"Not necessarily [the attacks will happen again] ... It is now up to SA [Saudi Arabia] and the United States. The way in Yemen has gone very terribly for SA and UAE, and the US shares the blame because it has been supporting the war. So, if they now seek a diplomatic solution, such attacks may not continue. But, if [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] MBS decides to intensify his genocidal attacks on Yemen, then he and his regime should expect retaliations," Sahimi argued.

He added that the drone technology was "poor man's bombers" due to its low cost and easy construction, and it was only a matter of time for the Houthis to start using it to counter Saudi Arabia.

SAUDI OIL RESTORATION MAY BE QUICK

As the result of the Sunday attack, Saudi Aramco had to cut its oil output by 5.7 million barrels per day (mb/d) from its average production of about 9.8 mb/d just days after Riyadh agreed with its OPEC+ partners to further decrease oil production by 400,000 barrels per day at the cost of countries such as Iraq and Nigeria that lag in conformity with the OPEC+ deal.

Brent crude jumped the most ever in price, whopping $11.73 to $71.95, immediately after the drone attack. But on the second day, the markets calmed down causing oil to dip in price.

"World energy markets are becoming acclimatized to sporadic and unpredictable reductions in oil and gas from Persian Gulf suppliers due to political instability and conflict there," Jamsheed Choksy explained, adding that it was still too early to speculate when Saudis will fully restore the production.

"The facilities remain vulnerable to future attacks and therefore both immediate repairs and long-term security are necessary," the expert said.

Nevertheless, current Saudi oil stocks should be enough to last until the full restoration, Sahimi argued.

"They should be able to repair the damage relatively quickly, within a few weeks at most. SA has about 185-190 million bl [barrel] of oil in stock. If what they say, that 5.7 million bl/day has been affected, is true, then their reserves should be good enough for about 30-35 days, which should be long enough for the repairs," Muhammad Sahimi said.

Accordingly, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said Tuesday that Riyadh can tackle the consequences of this weekend's "cowardly attack" on Saudi oil facilities.

It is yet unclear when normal operations will be restored, but Saudi Aramco reportedly pledged to restore a third of oil production lost due to drone attacks by Monday.