American and Saudi military forces and their networks of advanced air defenses never detected the Yemeni drones that were launched on Saturday to strike oil facilities deep inside Saudi Arabia, proving futile the billions of dollars that the Riyadh regime has spent on them to protect its territories.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in Saudi Arabia to discuss a possible response to the strike with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, admitted Wednesday that the US missile defense systems had failed to stop the attack.
“We want to make sure that infrastructure and resources are put in place such that attacks like this would be less successful than this one appears to have been,” he said, when asked why the Patriot missile systems deployed across the kingdom didn’t do anything to stop the Yemeni aircraft.
Pompeo sounded surprised by the vastness of the operation, saying: “This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before.”
Saudi Arabia has bought multiple batteries of Patriot missile system which are meant to shoot down hostile aircraft or shorter-range ballistic missiles, providing what in military terms is called “point defense,” meaning they are not suitable for covering wide swaths of land. It’s not yet clear whether any of them had been positioned close to the oil sites at the time of the attack.
According to The Washington Post, US weapons maker Raytheon charges up to $1 billion for each Patriot battery.
The US also uses an array of powerful spy satellites and aircraft flying in the region to gather intelligence and share it with the Saudi military to help the kingdom with its ongoing war against Yemen. That system, however, proved futile when it was needed the most.
“We don’t have an unblinking eye over the entire Middle East at all times,” Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in the aftermath of the attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also pointed to the utter failure of the US defense systems during his recent trip to the Turkish capital of Ankara.
Standing next to his Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani, Putin mockingly suggested Monday that maybe Saudis will be better off buying Russian-made S-300 or S-400 missile defense system, as Iran and Turkey have done.
"And they [Saudis] need to make one clever decision as Iran did, buying our S-300, and as Mr. Erdoğan did by deciding to buy the most advanced S-400 Triumph air defense systems from Russia," Putin continued as Rouhani smiled. "These kinds of systems are capable of defending any kind of infrastructure in Saudi Arabia from any kind of attack."
Iran, on its own, has developed missile defense systems that are far more superior to S-300, an acvhievement they best displayed in June by shooting down a stealth US drone over the Persian Gulf using the home-built Khordad 3 missile system.
Pointing finger at Iran
Perhaps that goes a long way to explain the behavior of American officials in the aftermath of the attacks, who have rejected Yemeni resistance forces’ explanations about the origins of the attack and opted instead for a more complex scenario that they hope would cover up the glaring failure of their technology.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has invited experts from the US, France, Kuwait and several other countries to scavenge the attack site for any evidence that it could use to link the strike to Iran.
On Wednesday, the kingdom displayed drone and missile debris it claimed were discovered at the site and argued that they resembled Iranian-made weapons.
In its attempt to hide its vulnerability against Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement, Saudi Arabia has also resorted to downplaying the militant group’s combat power.
The Saudi ambassador to Germany insisted that Iran had played a role in the attack and that his country kept all options on the table for retaliation.
"Of course everything is on the table but you have to discuss that well," Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio on Thursday.
"We're still working on where they were launched from but wherever they came from, Iran is certainly behind them as Iran built them and they could only be launched with Iranian help," he said.
That is more or less the same line taken by American officials, who have repeatedly said over the past days that the Houthis could not have orchestrated an attack of this scale on their own.
The Yemeni resistance movement says it flew 10 drones before dawn on Saturday and successfully destroyed all the designated targets in Saudi Arabia’s Khurais and Abqaiq.
They have also expressed surprise that the same Saudi leaders who attacked Yemen in March 2015 on the grounds that its missile prowess threatened their national security, are now confused by how hard the Houthis can hit back.
The Trump administration has also adopted a similar stance, with Pompeo saying that there is no evidence the drones flew from Yemen.
He has called the strike an act of war and promised a measured response. President Donald Trump, has also pledged a response. He ordered sanctions against Iran to “substantially increase” on Wednesday.
The spectacular failure of the Saudi-American defenses was first revealed in 2017, when Yemeni forces successfully targeted King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.
Back then Saudis claimed that their Patriots had hunted the missile before it hit the target but a group of American experts debunked the claim using satellite imagery and witness accounts.
US, Saudi allies not buying Iran claims
Iran has time and again denied the allegations and dismissed them as part of what Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called a campaign of “maximum deceit” that aims to cover America’s failures in confronting Iran through force and pressure.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has advised all sides to avoid jumping to conclusions and wait for the investigations to wrap up.
“Given that there is an international investigation, let's wait for the results," he said Thursday.
Germany and the UK have also called for restraint until the investigators finish their work.
Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono has also weighed in on the issue, saying he has yet to see any hard evidence that links Iran to the attacks.
"We are not aware of any information that points to Iran," Kono told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday. "We believe the Houthis carried out the attack based on the statement claiming responsibility."