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Saudi Arabia oil facilities ablaze after drone strikes (bbc.co.uk)
78 points by lifeisstillgood 31 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

This is an interesting comment

>> However, many observers consider that the Iranian role has been exaggerated, taking a fairly distant supporting role at most, with the Houthis acting very much on their own agenda, rather than as an Iranian proxy. Overall, the evidence from SIPRI data, the UN panel, and other sources, appears to support the idea that, while Iranian arms supplies have not been trivial, the primary sources of arms from the Houthis has been local, from those sections of the Yemeni army that supported them, from their former pro-Saleh allies, captured weapons, and the sort of locally assembled equipment discussed above.

[#] https://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2019/03/19/who-is-a...

Thanks to earlier post for the link

The implication from tufts is that this is not rebels firing missiles made elsewhere but assembling parts from global (dual use?) supply chains - which does rather imply drone / UAv manufacturing is within reach of any state and most groupings.

That quote you presented states that many of the arms held by the Houthis were not supplied by Iran. True or not, this assertion does not support the subsequent that "the Houthis acting very much on their own agenda, rather than as an Iranian proxy".

Even if the Houthis obtain armament from other sources, they may absolutely be following Iranian agenda. Indeed it seems hardly coincidental that their campaign against KSA has been escalating in lockstep with Iran's campaign of violently lashing out against the sanctions imposed upon it.

Moreover, there's very clear evidence that Iran (through IRGC) is supplying the Houthis with their most sophisticated weapons, such as Kornet missiles and indeed drones like those used in this attack:

> The Houthis have repeatedly used a drone that is nearly identical to Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company's Ababil-T drone in strikes against Saudi Arabia.


So whether it has other sources to acquire arms seems quite irrelevant. The fact is, the Houthis are using sophisticated Iranian weapons in attacks that are perfectly aligned with Iranian interests (and completely unaligned with identifiable Yemenite interests).

Be careful of uncritically accepting assertions that Iran isn't responsible for the actions of its various proxies. Iran has a strong interest in denying this responsibility, and indeed this denial is the core reason Iran has a proxy strategy to begin with.

> which does rather imply drone / UAv manufacturing is within reach of any state and most groupings

This could totally have been done by someone with a $100 drone, a grenade, and a few weeks of electronics work. Program the drone to wait 1 week, take off, fly to the target, and trigger the grenade. The fact the target was a tank of petrol will do the rest.

Do this 100 times on the same night, and the attacker could have a real impact on a nations economy.

No, half of KSA's oil production capacity was not taken out by a $100 drone carrying a grenade.

That's like saying you can bring down a massive skyscraper by hurling a lit match into its generator room.

Yes, in theory it can hit the right spot at the right time to start a massive chain reaction, but the odds of that actually happening are impossibly low.

Now multiply by the number of facilities that were hit, and it's the odds of winning N different lotteries with N random tickets.

No, this was done with far more sophisticated military-grade attack drones, backed by robust Command and Control system.

Very likely it was done by the HESA Ababil drone that Iran is known to have supplied to the Houthis and was involved in prior Houthi attacks:


Not the sort of drone you can buy on Amazon for $100.

Yeah, it's common for many to assume Iranian aligned factions such as the Houthis or Hezbollah have no agency, motivations or origins of their own.

The Houthis wouldn't be so keen to wage war on a rich, large, powerful nation like KSA if the Iranians weren't commanding them to do it.

Also notice how dramatically they stepped up their campaign against KSA since Iran launched its aggressive campaign to lash out against economic sanctions.

There's no inherent reasons the Houthis should be launching sophisticated, high-impact attacks on KSA on a weekly basis. This sort of escalation makes no sense within their own geopolitical context, but makes perfect sense when you consider Iran's contexts and regional goals.

Same for Hezbollah group in Lebanon against Israel. All the recent tensions in that conflict can't be explained by the organic interests of the Lebanese nation or people. In fact, a conflict with Israel is against the Lebanese national interest and would lead to great destruction in Lebanon. However, Hezbollah is escalating and building up towards that very conflict.

The vast majority of Hezbollah's budget is contributed by Iran:


Iran can ill afford to make that investment if they don't get much out of it, and it's pretty accurate to say Hezbollah is acting according to the interest of Iran far more than any other set of interests, including the Lebanese interest.

Hezbollah owes its power and arguably its existence to Iran. It's naive to expect it to act independently of Iranian interests.

Huh? Saudi Arabia intervened in the Yemeni civil war in 2015 and has been doing bombing sorties against the Houthis on a regular basis.

Without the Saudi intervention, the Houthis would most likely not have much of a relationship with Iran at all.

KSA tried to restore the internationally-recognized president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi after the Houthis ousted him. The Houthis had strong ties with Iran prior to this intervention, and in fact the KSA intervention aimed to prevent a Houthi takeover that would bring strong Iranian influence and effective control to Yemen.

Either way, the KSA intervention failed, and the Houthis were able to take over and establish themselves as the dominant power in Yemen, so my assertion stand: they currently have no organic reason to launch a campaign against KSA. Normally a rebel force in this situation would focus on stabilizing their own rule in their country.

The Houthis only control the northwestern part of Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia. Though that represents a lot of the population, stabilizing control over the entire country is difficult when fighting on two fronts and being bombed, as they’ve been for more than four years, and with Saudi Arabian support to their opposition readily available over the border. The Saudi bombing/blockade/invasion operation “Decisive Storm“ in 2015 failed, but the followup “Restoring Hope” operation is ongoing.

Also, the Houthis had launched around 200 previous drone attacks against Saudi in retaliation; this one was just significantly more successful, as opposed to a new campaign.

In 2015, when the Saudi’s intervened, a UN assessment asserted that there was no evidence of Iran having any “command and control” over the Houthis at the time.

If intervening in the Yemeni civil war on the side of a losing faction and bombing indiscriminately earned Saudi Arabia the Houthi’s enmity, pushed them closer to Iran, and resulted in an effective reprisal, the moral of the story would seem to be that actions have consequences and rashly attempting regional hegemony carries risk.

UN assessments are controversial and, in my opinion, dead wrong and biased. The UN wants the situation to deescalate, which is the opposite of what will happen if Iran's role is acknowledged.

The rest of your comments don't contradict my initial statements. The Saudis tried to keep Hadi in power and failed. The attacks against them by the Houthis are inversely correlated to the Saudi intervention. The Saudis have been scaling back their intervention, while the Houthis are attacking them more and using firepower and weapons they obviously received from Iran.

The Houthis have no reason to keep escalating against KSA now that KSA has virtually stopped their intervention. This would be an insane strategy - a rebel force launching extremely aggressive and escalating attacks against a large and powerful neighbor who stopped fighting them 3 years ago.

The only way you can explain this is that they are doing Iran's bidding. As the weapons are Iranian, this is hardly far-fetched.

Since the elements of the conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis date back to the 1930s, you can safely assume that it will ebb and flow according to each sides’ capabilities and willingness to seek advantage in the absence of a formal accord.

As for the fantasy of Saudi Arabia stopping intervention, they bombed a Houthi site in Dhamar less than two weeks ago in continuation of their bombing campaign of the last four years. That attack, which killed around 100 people, was merely the deadliest in this extremely dirty conflict, and likely sparked the Houthi reprisal.

* deadliest this year

You’ve written the same comment twice. Can you give an example of Iran’s violent lashing out?

Most of Iran's violent actions were done by proxies, exactly as happened in this case. I provided multiple Wikipedia links with sources showing how these proxies are armed and directed by Iran.

Here's another article about their military activity in Iraq: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_intervention_in_Iraq_(...

Besides that, they have been involved recently in multiple actions to seize oil tankers, culminating in the seizure of a British-flagged tanker:


They seized other tankers as well, for instance:


Having just read [1], I‘d say the nation state is maybe not the right level of observation/reasoning in the middle east.

[1] Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics

Quite a few nations in the Middle East were never organically formed. They were carved and cobbled together by various agreements, such as Sykes–Picot. The resulting creation contains an unstable combination of factions and tribes that are often hostile to each other. Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, and Iraq are all great examples of that.

Many of these nations are now failed states, containing factions that are more powerful than any sort of central government or military. Chief examples of that are Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

However, there are ME nations-states that do have a strong and coherent central government. Egypt, KSA, and Iran are examples of that.

So a more accurate model would be a mixture of failed artificial states interacting with states that are more functional and coherent.

When I read stuff that doesn't smell like propaganda it sounds more like the Iranian's don't want this conflict. Because they are playing a long game where their odds of winning are high.

Without Iran, there is no Houthi force that matters. Iranian ships provide supplies. Iranian advisors train. Strategy is coordinated by Iran.


Many places have only dealt with physical security at the ground level: fences, ID checkpoints, etc. Drones just bypassing everything by flying over have to force places to rethink that strategy.

What I don't understand is that while multicopter drones may only be a decade old, RC planes have been around forever. Why are people only just noticing the problem?

Guidance. Until quite recently an RC plane required line of sight to both plane and target and even then accuracy would be limited. Now, with common off the shelf parts, open source software, and wireless cell/satellite networks that have almost global availability anyone can create a guidance package that rivals ones that were only available to a handful of nation-states twenty years ago.

Indeed, there are people on youtube with planes on autopilot that fly miles away going back at least a decade or so.

You can purchase the plans for a UAV you can cut yourself on a CNC/cutter.

Flying Squirrel Gemini V-2[1]


„Recently“ is not that recent really. This tech has been available for more than a decade. The lack of attacks is an interesting phenomenon that points to a knowledge gap or availability of technology in the terrorist bubbles.

I'm not sure that's the only explanation. Maybe the goals and mindset of currently active terrorist organisations haven't been compatible with drone usage.

For example, does not having martyrs fit in with the traditional narrative of Islamic terrorism? Was drone warfare really an option before ISIL?

Most small groups attacking a big powerful nation state seem to have "hearts and minds" as the goal.

Destroying an oil refinery doesn't really achieve that goal.

That's what I'm saying. This doesn't really seem like a terrorist operation, it seems like a military operation.

That's because it is a military operation. Naturally opponents of the Houthis will call them terrorists because that's what nations do these days to delegitimize their adversaries.

There was a front page article yesterday about how easy it is to spoof and/or jam GPS. These oilfields have been a prime target for attacks like this for over a decade.

I doubt this is a case of a simple hobbyist level project. The drones would have needed serious firepower combined with advanced guidance systems that could keep a target visually and/or with purely inertial sensors, and would likely have to operate entirely autonomously.

Add to that that conventional air defence doesn't work either.

Even the most poorly built drone can fly low and slow enough to be invulnerable to anything but human aimed AA guns, but for that one can just double the numbers

Real world example of Zerg rush strategy. It will require whole new types of air defense.

Military strategists are actively thinking through this and some high risk private or public sector industrial targets are as well.

Statements like, "Just use EMP or signal jammers." do not take into account the collateral damage and impacts EMP or broad wavelength frequency jamming have either short or long term on the defenders.

Indeed. And if you use aerial surveillance photos (google maps) and build a star positioning sensor, you can do dead reckoning with no external radio dependencies.

It's how the missiles do it, btw.

Or you can include GPS with sanity checks. Then only subtle deviation attacks would work.

A downward facing IR camera, together with an IR map of the terrain and dead reckoning is pretty much invulnerable to any kind of jamming.

Putting the electronics in a box protects against EMP attacks too.

Defending against that is hard!

It's interesting how AA development could to go back to WWII type flak cannon type systems designed to grenade the air with as much shards of metal as possible

I think it will be pretty much impossible to stop fast low flying drones from the ground. Perhaps other drones are the solution.

There isn't much to defend against a drone dropping a thermite charge or other bomblet on a facility - if the drone flies high enough even ordinary firearms or EMP/jammer weapons don't work any more.

But ECM will. Russians reliably defend their airbases in Syria against stubbornly repeated drone strikes.

Do you have any more details on this? (I have just realised this whole area of new military capabilities has passed me by and am trying to catch up)

ECM won't do anything if the drone is automated and optically or dead reckoning guided...

Nope, it will physically fry the electronics (that's a directed antenna...), unless electronics are seriously MIL-SPEC, properly shielded, and such, which is beyond the capacity and level of sophistication of most terrorist groups. You probably can't defeat a manned aircraft or a RQ-4 like this, but some cheap drone assembled in a garage by Palestinians, Houthi or other KGB-sponsored group, easily.

I seriously doubt your claim, and whether you know anything about basics of electronics engineering.

You can dissipate kilowatts of RF energy just with structural components of a UAV, so physically frying a UAV is completely out of the question.

Near all of aviation composites come with some copper or aluminium mesh exactly for EMI, and lighting strike protection these days.

And for protecting antenna inputs, there are god knows how much circuits even a high schoolers can do.

What's the delivered power of experimental directed RF weapons?

The most over the top guess will be 1kw over a drone sized target at 100m

Russia has an ICBM sized vacuum tube capable of 1gw+ of omnidirectional output in a short impulse. But get guess how inverse square law works with it. Even with such monster will only get you <1kw at a kilometre.

You can further imagine it being used with directional antenna, and so, but it will not change things much

So, Saudi Arabia kills some 80,000 civilians in Yemen, and nobody cares, then when the rebels hit a Saudi oil field, killing nobody, and just destroying a bunch of capital, and all of a sudden its terrorism and we’re going to talk about intervening on the Saudis behalf?

Glad to see we’re still very clear on what is important (the property of the ruling class, oil sheiks) and what isn’t (the lives of civilians and children).

It’s striking how much of the cyberpunk I read in my youth is becoming reality. Back then I though it would be cool, but now I really wish it would stop.

Like from Mad Max 2 intro https://youtu.be/9n29c-q3_8Q

the facilities are big, and owned by Aramco, a $1 trillion state-owned company. their IPO events began at the Dubai Ritz just yesterday. i would assume this attack is not a coincidence.

Shorters using extreme tactics now.

The geopolitical implications of this could put up the prices of oil more than the cost of the damage. This could actually be a net benefit for Aramco. The shorters would be better off investing in Tesla and encouraging EVs.

Or someone wanting to get in cheap. Or... or... we may never know who or why. There too much money an politics around this.

I think that is very likely.

It's hard to see how the Saudis would give in to such threats directly but there must be a calculation here - can they force the Saudis to the negotiating table with this new capability or can the US supply a missile defence system capable of stopping this?

I suspect that forcing both sides to the table would be the RoW's preference?

What a time to be Trumps new incoming National Security Advisor - busy morning !

No conventional long range AA can shot down small drones flying low and slow.

Short range air defence can, but as its name suggests, it's short ranged.

Is there an "observatory" that monitors drone warfare - I have heard of drones dropping grenades down tank hatches, and lots of requests from western air forces for anti drone measures but this is the first "big" target I have heard of.

Plus, worryingly, this does seem a fairly automatable attack. The limiting factor for the attackers must be the supply of drones plus any concerns about wiping their geo fencing / remote self destructs built in. As someone who would get his drones from the local curry's I presume the attackers have some other supply channel ?

This is just US strikes - https://www.longwarjournal.org/us-airstrikes-in-the-long-war

The rest of the world I guess will catch up sooner or later.

"Plus, worryingly, this does seem a fairly automatable attack."

Yes. Cheap. Easily available. Can be launched from a Camel. Don't have to attack major facilities. It is enough to attack pipelines in the desert. How much does a drone cost?

Please consider: https://www.amazon.com/Brave-New-War-Terrorism-Globalization...

"Can be launched from a Camel"

That's a feature I wasn't expecting to hear about today.

Well, it was sloppy writing. But I assume the drones can be transported with Camels.

Don't spoil it for me, I had visions of a landing platform on their humps (would split in two, and fold down each side for ease of transport), and a little spinning radar dish. Obviously you'd still have the tasselled rug underneath, can I coin the name Bedouin Punk?

No need to wipe anything if you build it yourself. Plenty of online guides show you how with cheap Chinese parts. This is for a racing drone, but you get the idea:


There are a number of military analysts, some amateur, with websites documenting every photo and video they've been able to obtain of Iranian domestic produced drones.

I love the idea of an open source (or just freely available) observatory that lists drone strikes and centralizes this info!

Makes you wonder where the technology came from. Here's one reference from [1] -

> The Borkan is a modified Scud

The newer models appear to be the originals, but I find it hard to believe that Yemen could develop a radar-evading 1500km range drone on their own. Someone's helping them, no doubt. Any ideas who that might be?

[1] https://www.mintpressnews.com/uae-yemen-troop-withdrawal-hou...

Saudi isn't developing their weapons alone either.

Via the Campaign Against Arms Trade website [1], Who is arming the Yemen war? An update. [2]

"So far, the western countries with the largest arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, namely the USA, the UK, and France, have continued to sell arms to both countries"

[1] https://www.caat.org.uk/resources/countries/yemen/news

[2] https://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2019/03/19/who-is-a...

You can download pixhawk from the internet, and locations of Saudi radars are publicly available (google maps)

Iran obviously. That is their ally.

...or any country that wants to see the United States drawn into a proxy war for one of its client states in the Middle East. Or a country that wants to see oil prices rise in the short-term. Or a a country that wants to make European dependence on Saudi oil untenable, and put an end to the US sanctions regime.

The US is now the world's largest oil exporter, so a limited confrontation that leads to picking up slack in the global oil market and selling more arms to Saudi Arabia is very much in its interest.

It could be Iran, it could be others. It could be Iran and others, which is likely, because Iran doesn't have much money to spend right now.

USA is not the largest exporter of oil at all. It scarcely exceeds 3mn/d. Saudi exports 7.0 currently and that’s restraining themselves.

You need to look at the numbers on a net basis: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rrapier/2018/12/09/no-the-u-s-i...

You can downvote me, but a bunch of US butane exports not going replace lost Arab medium, heavy crude.

Well if you include NGLs ok (natural gas liquids). But not if you talk about crude oil, which is the valuable thing. NGL is waste product almost.

Only Russia is an alternative but I highly doubt they would do it. They would not go against SA and they have always kept Iran at a distance.

I think the only suspects you can take off the list are oil-importing US client states and the LDCs of the global south. The unipolar moment is over, a Great Game is again afoot.

Iran is generally believed to be supporting the Houthi rebels.

I think Yemen war will go down in military history as one of the most successful asymmetrical war initiative.

Not so sucessful for (poor) normal Yemenis who have a failed state instead of a prosperous country which could be wonderful (culture, nature, tourism), such a shame!

On the dark side of things I am not sure if Yemen would ever have been too prosperous in the long term. They are bordered by one of the worst countries on the world. Saudi Arabia has funded acts of terror (9/11), harbored international criminals (several of whom fled India) and is practically a serfdom which uses Islam as its recruitment tool. On the other side is Iran which is again super messed up. So it was basically impossible for them to be prosperous for too long. I hope Saudi Arabia has to pay them lots of reparation money.

Consider this:

- KSA is at war with Yemen.

- KSA has a land border with Yemen.

- KSA army has not invaded Yemen.

- KSA army is not deployed in Yemen.

Some parts of Yemen have been captured by sympathetic local forces, supported by the UAE and Colombian mercenaries deployed by sea routes.



It is testament to the terrain; the capability and tenacity of the Houthis; and the lack of capability and tenacity of the KSA army.





This is fair game, Yemen is being starved, regardless of age, or guilt.

What drone type/size? What charge was delivered, was it FPV or pre-programmed route? Stupid article, no details whatsoever.

I am also interested in that - but as they could not stop the drone bombing them they did not have that data either.

however an earlier comment linked eventually to mintpressnews and a claim that they are domestically manufacturing drones (UAV-like not consumer)

If these are domestically produced (presumably helped by Iran as opposed to supplied) then the bar to becoming a "threat to your neighbours" just got a lot lower - Yemen was poor before years of war.

https://www.mintpressnews.com/uae-yemen-troop-withdrawal-hou... (No idea about the provenance of this article, but it says Houthi have drones, and they just bombed so it must have something going for it)

It's likely that a terrorist group, sooner or later, will do some kind of drone attack on a western target.

This is so sad.

Well, it is definitely not good. But sad?

Saudi Arabia brought ugly warfare to Yemen and the war has come back.

The Iranians are taking over the Middle East. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palistinian areas, Yemen. The Saudis and Egyptians are countering them. The whole area is in conflict because of the Iranian government's urge to dominate.

Are there any good guys here? Probably not, but this attack on this refinery is an attack on all countries that use the oil from it. We'll all end up paying for it one way or the other.

The only way out from this is developing energy sources that do not depend on this volatile area.

This is old news. Just happed again. Saudi Arabia lost the war https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/08/19/today-saudi-arabia-fin...

Nice source.

> The Houthi have clown prince Mohammad bin Salman by the balls and can squeeze those at will.

Perhaps don’t link to propaganda blogs.

May I assume, based on your comment

1. That prince Salman is a serious politician? I mean, give or take a bown saw?

2. That the conclusion of the former news is wrong? It looked more and more unlikely that this war can be won by Saudi Arabia. Now it looks, it might get lost.

By the way, the Emirates left the war already. Wonder why. If I had to take a guess I would say that a drone attack on the Dubai airport would do wonders to their air traffic. But you never know.

"The Houthi have clown prince Mohammad bin Salman by the balls and can squeeze those at will."

no way. You predicted victory for Saudi Arabia.

That prince Salman is a serious politician?

Of course he's a serious politician, and a skilled one at that. He has managed to greatly strengthen ties with the US, outmaneuver most of his political 'enemies', keep the flow of western weapons coming into his country and get the entire western world to kind of shrug and forget that he had a journalist murdered and cut up with a bone saw.

I wouldn't really go as far as qualifying him as a successful politician for the simple reason that it not really challenging for dictators to consolidate power and build alliances using unethical means, like money and intimidation and in this case murder. For MBS his father is already the monarch of one of the wealthiest nations on earth, which I'm pretty sure helps a lot.

OK, I give you that you got some points.

But weapons have always flown into Saudi Arabia. They have to be proven both:

1. Not very effective in this war and

2. In general not very useful in the hands of Arabs https://www.meforum.org/441/why-arabs-lose-wars

I don't know Saudi Arabia well enoughto judge about this political enemies. I have read he has made some progress in modernization. Hi megalomaniac "neom" project seems to have failed, at least stalled. He has alienated Qatar, he has sided with the Israelis which could backfire easily from Muslim extremists.

I have no idea who that is; I just know that any "publication" that uses that language is rather biased and not to be trusted.

Take note, propagandists: If you keep your crude ad hominem wordplay to a minimum, you may find more success in manipulating opinion.

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