Al-Jazeera Debate about Drone Strikes on Saudi Oil Fields: Total Failure by U.S., Saudi Air Defense Systems; Drone Attacks Can Paralyze Saudi Arabia; UAE Still a Potential Target
On September 14, 2019, Al-Jazeera Network (Qatar) hosted a debate about the drone strikes that took place earlier in the day against the Abqaiq and Khurais oil fields in Saudi Arabia. General (Ret.) Mamoun Abu Nowar of the Royal Jordanian Air Force said that the attack is unprecedented and technically impressive because of its precision, because of how powerful the explosions were, and because of the fact that ten drones flew 1,000 kilometers in two hours without being detected or without having their systems jammed. General Nowar said that the success of the attack is an indication that the American presence in Saudi Arabia and the Patriot air defense system were unable to stop the drone attack, and he argued that it changes the future of warfare in a fashion similar to the use of Stinger missiles by the mujahideen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He said that Saudi Arabia is vulnerable to being paralyzed by Houthi missile and drone strikes against its power plants, computer systems, infrastructure, and desalination plants. U.K.-based Yemeni expert Ahmed Almoaiad pointed out that the Yemenis have successfully attacked Saudi soil four times despite seven Saudi air bases and despite the presence of American Green Berets in Saudi Arabia, and he said that the UAE may soon suffer an even more devastating attack because of its failure to withdraw from Yemen.
Following are excerpts:
Host: How did those drones manage to cross all that distance and strike their targets with precision – according to the Houthi [statement] – without being shot down?
General (Ret.) Mamoun Abu Nowar: This is unprecedented. This is rare. From my experience in this, I can tell you that we must appreciate the flight distance – over 1,000 kilometers – as well as the precision. This is no easy feat, even for fighter planes. What is noteworthy here is that these planes use satellites, GPS, or onboard computers, and that there were ten of these drones, yet they were not detected. Their radar footprint is small, and they are slow – their flight time was 2 hours – yet they were not detected. Why weren’t the drones jammed… With your permission, this is important. Why weren’t these drones jammed? Why weren’t they shot down? Why wasn’t the satellite connection, or the drones themselves, jammed? This is a big failure. I see this as an indication that the Americans are incapable… They are present in Saudi Arabia, in the King Khalid Air Base, but they could not do anything about these strikes. This changes the future of warfare. Whoever wants to see how future wars will be fought in the future should look at the war that is taking place in Yemen.
This is a complete failure on the part of the Patriot system that was protecting these highly sensitive sites. In all honesty, Saudi Arabia has become unsafe. It’s tough, really. A great threat and a great challenge to Saudi Arabia are being posed by the ballistic missiles, drones, and cruise missiles used by the Houthis. They have completely turned the tables. Let me remind our viewers about [the Soviet war] in Afghanistan. When the mujahideen were given Stinger should-fired missiles by the Americans, they managed to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan. The same scenario is playing out now. For four years, the [Saudi-led] coalition had total air dominance in Yemeni skies, but right now they cannot even defend their own skies against something so simple. This is after four years. What is happening in Yemen has changed the future of warfare.
Ahmed Almoaiad: Yemen has shot down over 190 drones, filmed the operations, and showed the debris. This includes the MQ-9 [Reaper] and the Chinese Wing Loong. These are top-notch Chinese and American drones, and they were shot down in Yemen.
The Saudis have the base in Najran, the King Khalid Air Base, the Sulayyil Base, and the King Salman Air Base, and the Abqaiq and Khurais oil fields are within the protection of the King Abdulaziz Air Base. There are seven air bases, supported by a brigade of American Green Berets, as well as another brigade that arrived south of Riyadh in July 2019. The sole mission of this brigade is air defense from drones. The Yemeni drones overcame all of these [obstacles] – not once, twice, or three times, but four times. The Shaybah oil field was attacked, a missile hit Dammam, the East-West Pipeline was also hit, and now Abqaiq and Khurais were attacked.
General (Ret.) Mamoun Abu Nowar: I’d like to say that the quantity of explosives used by those drones was not insignificant. This was a different kind of munition. From what I saw in the video, and from my expertise in this field, I can say that these were powerful explosions. Specific kinds of munitions were used in this case. But I’d like to reiterate: How come America and Saudi Arabia failed to down these drones, or to jam their satellite communication or the drones themselves, in order to bring them down? This will remain a dangerous threat to Saudi Arabia. It can paralyze the country.
From a technical perspective, the precision was outstanding. They can strike any target and paralyze Saudi Arabia – the power plants, the computers that run the systems, the infrastructure… It’s called SCADA systems, the computers, the desalination [plants]… This is dangerous.
Ahmed Almoaiad: The UAE is still a target. It has not withdrawn from Yemen. The UAE has only made things worse. I have no information, but my analysis leads me to worry that the UAE will be hit by a more powerful strike than the one in Saudi Arabia, because the UAE did not fulfill anything… It wasn’t true to its promises.