Experts on military technology said Saudi Arabia should not be faulted for failing to stop the attack. Like those of other countries, Saudi Arabia’s defenses were designed to stop ballistic missiles. This attack appears to have been carried out with low-flying cruise missiles or drones that would escape detection by most radar systems.
“I don’t think that there is any country that could have defended any better than Saudi Arabia did, and that includes the United States,” said Peter Roberts, director of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, an international research institute.
Yet the attack appears to have caused some rethinking by Crown Prince Mohammed.
Soon after he was first named defense minister, in 2015, he plunged the kingdom into a military campaign in neighboring Yemen to drive from power a faction backed by Iran. Saudi media outlets proclaimed that the prince was asserting the kingdom’s power and leading a new drive to roll back Iranian influence.
“The Iranians, they’re the cause of problems in the Middle East, but they are not a big threat to Saudi Arabia,” the prince boasted confidently to Time magazine in 2018. “Saudi Arabia’s economy is double the size of the Iranian economy,” he said, adding that Iran’s army was “ not among the top five” in the Middle East.
“We will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, and not in Saudi Arabia,” he promised on a Saudi news channel.
Yet the damage to the oil installation was a painful lesson in the potential costs of a wider conflict, at a time when the Saudi military remains bogged down in Yemen and Prince Mohammed has been pushing for a public sale of the Saudi state oil company.
The Saudi decision to call for an international investigation and not immediate retribution may be the choice of a chastened prince, analysts said. “I think there has a been a calculation that the costs might be too high,” said Rebecca Wasser, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.