Across the Arabian peninsula, thousands of miles of pipes run above and below the desert in one of the world’s most sophisticated production lines for pumping oil from the ground and distributing it around the world. This vast system of oil fields, refineries and ports has largely run like clockwork despite political turbulence across the region.
Then a drone strike claimed by Houthi rebels this week forced the Saudis to temporarily halt the flow of a crucial oil artery to the west side of the country. The assault came a day after mysterious incidents damaged two Saudi tankers and two other ships in a key port in the United Arab Emirates.
These were perhaps the most serious attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure since Al Qaeda militants were thwarted trying to blow up a key Saudi facility at Abqaiq in 2006.
While American officials are still trying to determine whether Iran was behind these incidents, the question for the oil market is how well the Saudi and Persian Gulf infrastructure is protected and whether, with tensions building in the region, it could survive a conflict with Iran.
Analysts and executives of Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, say the kingdom has spent heavily to protect the industry that is its lifeblood. Key Saudi installations are tightly guarded and protected by missile batteries and other weaponry. “Security systems were bulked up in the 2000s amid the Al Qaeda threat, including the 2006 attack on the Abqaiq facility,” said Ben Cahill, manager for research & advisory, at Energy Intelligence, a research firm. “The country’s oil