Throughout the past week, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia has been brought up multiple times in news and is now believed to have created a Saudi version of Game of Thrones. To those of you who haven’t been following the news or are still unable to make sense of the overwhelming events, here’s a breakdown of what actually happened:
Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman did not only purge his potential political adversaries within Saudi borders but also proliferated the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. His actions, though highly beneficial to his agenda, weren’t entirely risk-free.
What is his agenda?
One view claims it to be a struggle for power and that “the 32-year old prince is willing to throw the entire region into jeopardy to wear the royal gown.” Another asserts that this might just be unlikely because his rise to prominence was sealed by his appointment as Crown Prince in place of his older cousin, Mohamed Bin Nayef, in June. In other words, he is an official heir to the throne. What is essentially true, though, is that he has been threatening for months to put an end to “corruption” in the Saudi government and bring Iran’s influence in the Middle East to a minimum. He also has promised to reduce Saudi Arabia’s economic dependence on oil.
What has he done, then?
In his corruption-sweep, he ordered the removal of Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah from his post as commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard and one of the few remaining autonomous sources of authority in the kingdom. He also detained at least 11 members of the ruling family and dozens of others, including government ministers and ex-ministers and key figures in the business community.
That’s what happened within Saudi borders, all good, but what’s the deal with Iran, Lebanon, and Yemen?
Iran: Saudi Arabia is a Sunni-dominated country and Iran is a Shia-dominated country. The conflict over regional dominance between both countries dates way back. The conflict also featured proxy wars between both parties over the control of Lebanon and Yemen.
Lebanon: The Lebanese Sunni Prime Minister, Saad Al-Hariri, who has long been an ally of Saudi Arabia, quit as Prime Minister last Saturday. He made the announcement from Riyadh and in his resignation speech, blamed Iran and Hezbollah. As a result, Lebanon has officially been thrust to the centre of regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Gulf affairs minister said the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of what he described as aggression by Hezbollah.
Yemen: Late Saturday evening, Saudi Arabia announced that they had intercepted and destroyed an inbound cruise missile that was headed for Riyadh. A group of Yemeni rebels known as the Houthis, who have been fighting against Saudi influence in Yemen for years, immediately claimed responsibility for launching the missile. On Monday, The Saudi Press Agency announced that the Saudi government considered this to be an “act of war” by Iran and threatened retaliation.
What is Mohammed Bin Salman’s tie to these events and how do they serve his agenda?
In addition to being Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman is also First Deputy Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia and its Minister of Defence. He is very critical of Iran’s influence in the region and, as previously mentioned, promised to abate the Iranian influence in the Middle East, if not, abolish it altogether.
What do we make of all this?
Many are very skeptical of Mohammed Bin Salman’s endeavours. However, whether his goal is power and glory or a true reform movement that might actually transform the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into a modern nation-state is yet unknown. A decent number of foreign policy observers are optimistic that Bin Salman might actually be onto something here.
Okay, but did Mohammed Bin Salman happen to provoke an actual war between Saudi Arabia and Iran? Most observers reject the probability of a direct military conflict between both countries. However, for what it’s worth, it does seem likely that the hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran will escalate.