Saudi Arabia has long been a backroom player in the Middle East's nuclear game of thrones, apparently content to bankroll the ambitions of Pakistan and Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) to counter the rise of its mortal enemy, Iran.
But as the West and Iran have moved closer to a nuclear accommodation, signs are emerging that the monarchy is ready to give the world a peek at a new missile strike force of its own - which has been upgraded with Washington's careful connivance.
According to a well-placed intelligence source, Saudi Arabia bought ballistic missiles from China in 2007 in a hitherto unreported deal that won Washington's quiet approval on the condition that CIA technical experts could verify they were not designed to carry nuclear warheads.
The solid-fueled, medium-range DF-21 East Wind missiles are an improvement over the DF-3s the Saudis clandestinely acquired from China in 1988, experts say, although they differ on how much of an upgrade they were.
The newer missiles, known as CSS-5s in NATO parlance, have a shorter range but greater accuracy, making them more useful against "high-value targets in Tehran, like presidential palaces or supreme-leader palaces," Jeffrey Lewis, director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, tells Newsweek. They can also be fired much more quickly.