Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has been driven by concerns for oil supply and delivery. Regional tensions with Iran have made the Strait of Hormuz an unreliable route for 30 percent of the world’s oil supply and alternatives ports of transshipment and pipelines have emerged as a vital component of the monarchy’s future economic stability. The irony of Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen is that, rather than promote oil security, it has spawned a tenacious opponent in the Houthi movement. As September’s drone strike on Saudi oil fields is testament, Houthi tribal militias are capable of striking into Saudi territory and disrupting global oil supply, costing the monarchy billions of dollars in damage and lost revenue. While the government and media continue to point fingers and conjecture as to the ultimate culprit, the real question that remains is why the Saudi oil ministry was unprepared and surprised by such a brazen attack. Since 2009, Houthi tribesmen have constituted a threat along Saudi Arabia’s southern border, infiltrating with ground across a porous desert region and penetrating Saudi airspace with Scud missiles and pilotless drones. The attack on the Abqaiq oil facilities was not the first and certainly will not be the last demonstration of Saudi Arabia’s vulnerability.
Shortly after the drone attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin quipped that Saudi Arabia should have purchased an advanced Russian air defense system. Putin’s humor was not misplaced, especially considering the billions of dollars that Saudi Arabia has spent on Raytheon’s Patriot missile defense system, an amount that has only increased in the weeks since the attack. While Russia’s S-300 and S-400 systems remain untested in the battlefield, there is no guarantee that either air defense could have intercepted a drone.