Yemen’s Houthi group did not launch an attack on Saudi Arabia oil facilities in September, a confidential report by UN sanctions monitors seen by Reuters said, bolstering a US accusation that Iran was responsible.
The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the September attack on Saudi Aramco oil plants in Abqaiq and Khurais, dismissing a claim of responsibility by the Iran-allied Houthis. Tehran denied involvement.
The report by independent UN experts to the Security Council Yemen sanctions committee said, “Despite claims to the contrary the Houthi forces did not launch the attacks on Abqaiq and Khurais on 14 September 2019.”
The findings of the UN report come amid escalating tensions in the region after the United States killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad and Tehran retaliated by firing missiles at military facilities housing US troops in Iraq.
UN investigators doubted the drones and land attack cruise missiles used in the September attack “have sufficient range to have been launched from Yemeni territory under control of the Houthis.”
“The panel noted Abqaiq and Khurais were approached from a north/north-western and north/north-eastern direction, rather than the south, as one would expect in the case of a launch from Yemeni territory,” the report said.
The investigators, who monitor sanctions on Yemen, do not believe “the comparatively sophisticated weapons were developed and manufactured in Yemen.” They were not tasked with identifying who was responsible for the Saudi attack.
MILITARY SUPPORT OF THE HOUTHIS
The attacks that targeted the Abqaiq and the Khurais oil plants caused a spike in oil prices, fires and damage and shut down more than five percent of global oil supply. Saudi Arabia said in October it fully restored oil output.
The Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, signalled in September that Riyadh was waiting for the results of UN investigations before announcing how his country would respond.
“The UN sent people to be part of the investigation, other countries sent experts,” he told reporters in New York. “When the team investigating has concluded its investigations we will make announcements publicly.”
Reuters reported in November Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the attack on Saudi oil facilities, with strict conditions: Iranian forces had to avoid hitting civilians or Americans. Iran rejected the version of events four people described to Reuters.
UN experts monitoring UN sanctions on Iran and Yemen travelled to Saudi Arabia days after the September attack.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council in a separate report in December – on the implementation of an arms embargo and other restrictions on Iran – the UN was “unable to independently corroborate” missiles and drones used in the attacks “were of Iranian origin.”
The report seen by Reuters from the independent panel of experts that reports twice a year to the Security Council on implementation of sanctions related to the conflict in Yemen imposed in 2014 and 2015.
It was submitted to the UN Security Council Yemen sanctions committee on December 27, and will be made public until later this month or next month.
A proxy war is playing out in Yemen between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-allied Houthis. The Houthis are subject to a separate arms embargo since 2015. Iran repeatedly denied supplying weapons to the Houthis.
“The Houthi forces continue to receive military support in the form of assault rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank guided missiles, as well as sophisticated cruise missile systems,” the report found.
“Some weapons have technical characteristics similar to arms manufactured in Iran,” it said.