The recent attack on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq oil processing facility has netted Saudi Arabia a modicum of international sympathy, which has temporarily quieted criticisms of the Kingdom's many egregious human-rights violations (like bankrolling one faction in Yemen's civil war and beheading teenagers for speaking out against the state).
But with the one-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul coming up next week, many of those old passions could soon resurface.
The backlash from the government-insider-turned critic's murder was extremely embarrassing for the kingdom. Many American businesses, including the big banks, vowed to cut business ties with Saudi Arabia, and many bold-faced names pulled out of MbS's "Davos in the Desert" forum.
So now, in a transparent attempt by Saudi Crown Prince MbS - widely blamed for ordering the killing - to assuage investors' concerns about the Kingdom's human rights record ahead of Aramco's IPO, the Crown Prince sat for an interview with PBS's Frontline where he said he 'takes responsibility' for Khashoggi's murder, even though he continued to deny having any foreknowledge of the killing.
"It happened under my watch," Prince Mohammed told PBS reporter Martin Smith in a trailer released on Tuesday for the Frontline documentary, which kicks off the season . "I get all the responsibility. Because it happened under my watch."
And how could this have happened without MbS knowing?
"We have 20 million people," he said. "We have 3 million government employees."
And how did the kill squad get access to a government plane? MbS blamed it on his subordinates.
"I have officials, ministers to follow things and they’re responsible, they have the authority to do that," he said.
Nearly one year ago on Oct. 2, Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul for an appointment to obtain a document he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. Inside, he was ambushed by death squad of 15 Saudi agents who had flown in a few hours earlier on a government jet. After reportedly refusing to return to Saudi Arabia with them, Khashoggi was strangled by a member of the team. His body was dismembered in the consul's office, and his killers disposed of his remains. They have never been found.
The Kingdom punished members of the kill squad, including charging 17 people with Khashoggi's murder, a charge that could carry a death sentence (by beheading) in Saudi Arabia, though few expect any to actually be convicted.
Turkish and international investigators have determined that the Saudi State sanctioned the attack then tried to cover it up, and the CIA has also reportedly determined that MbS directly ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who had been living in Virginia and working as a columnist for the Washington Post.
But the Frontline interview is one of the only examples of MbS publicly discussing the Khashoggi case. But if MbS and the Saudi state are worried about some kind of shareholder boycott hurting the valuation of Aramco's IPO, they can probably relax. If anything, the Khashoggi affair showed how quickly international outrage can subside and be forgotten.
Just look at how quickly US investment banks have scrambled to join the ranks of the underwriters for Aramco's IPO.
The Frontline episode featuring the interview will air next Tuesday. Watch the trailer below: