The satellite image of the Abqaiq oil facility in eastern Saudi Arabia after this month's attack shows the size of the strike. The facility is the main engine in the kingdom's oil and petrochemical production chain.
The Abqaiq Black Crude Processing Plant is the largest of its kind in the world, with a daily capacity of about 7 million barrels. Abqaiq is the main operations center of Aramco. Processed oil flows through pipelines to the Saudi port of "Ras Tanura" and Bahrain's "Bapco" refinery on the Gulf coast, from Abqaiq an east-west pipeline also runs which transports crude through the kingdom to the Red Sea port of Yanbu. In addition, pipelines from Abqaiq provide petrochemical feedstock to their production processes, led by SABIC, one of the world's largest petrochemical companies.
The Abqaiq facility is a typical embodiment of two essential features of the oil industry: concentration and complexity. The main processes of oil production around the world are concentrated in geographic areas that can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand (suffice to mention here that the eastern region in Saudi Arabia alone accounts for 20% of the world's black crude reserves).
The complexity is represented by the large structural and technical architecture on which oil production projects are based, which require highly diversified engineering and technical systems to manage them. This is exactly what makes the oil industry structurally fragile: It is enough for the system to malfunction until all processes along the production chain are affected.
During the long history of industry development, tremendous investments were made to modernize the protection and safety systems of oil facilities in order to better adapt them to natural disasters, fires and sabotage attacks. All this is in addition to considering oil facilities as part of the national security strategies of the states, thus harnessing military power and intelligence resources in order to protect them and ensure that they do not disrupt their work.
Aramco is a company known for the efficiency of its operations and the effectiveness of the safety and security systems of its facilities, but what happened this month appeared to be greater than all expectations.
The company has announced that it has halted half of its production of black crude, and U.S. President Donald Trump in turn announced the start of the use of the U.S. strategic reserve to cover the possible shortage of supplies. It is not yet known how long it will take to resume supplies from Saudi Arabia.
Crude prices rose by 18% as the market opened today to reflect the shock caused by Saturday's attack in the global market and fears of supply shortfalls, but we can say with great certainty that we are facing a very serious event in the strategic sense.
The strikes and damage seen via satellite images, which targeted oil reservoirs and part of the treatment plant (this plant is, in fact, the most important in the site of "Abqaiq" because it supplies crude oil "sour" for filtering and exporting through purification and removal of the compound of hydrogen sulfide), showed what was used in the attack was not only drones but also ballistic missiles, and that the attack significantly affected the work of the facility and removed some of its main parts out of the service.
In addition, I find myself in agreement with some reports of a hypothesis that the attack may have originated in Iraq, not Yemen, this hypothesis holds a lot of logic in my opinion.
The full details of the attack will come out over the next few days and we will know exactly what happened soon, we do not have to be in a rush, but key aspects of the situation in the region are clear enough now:
Iran has raised the level of engagement to high levels and is continuing to implement its strategy to try to prevent oil exports from the Gulf under the U.S. sanctions on its oil exports.
The United States, along with Saudi Arabia, received a punch in the face, as U.S. air defense systems such as the Patriot and Hawk deployed in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia were unable to respond or prevent the attack (and if the scenario of using ballistic missiles is confirmed, we are facing double failure because the systems the U.S. is supposed to be more efficient in dealing with missiles than for drones, which radars often do not pick up for their limited speed and low-altitude flight), which means putting every idea of American protection for Saudi Arabia, which has been the material foundation of the relationship between the two countries for decades on a touchstone.
The attack is likely to derail Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's upcoming plans to put part of Aramco's assets on the world stock exchanges, the main project underlying Vision 2030, on which he built part of his ascent to the crown prince's position.
The attack will sound a big alarm to strategists, policymakers and intelligence agencies in all the countries of the region, because it represents a display of live ammunition for Iran's technical and missile capabilities and the consequences of direct confrontation with it or its allies.
This strike not only hit Saudi Arabia, but it can also be said to have hit Israel.
* Editor at Daily Sabah Arabic
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