Is it chaos in Saudi Arabia or a carefully orchestrated consolidation of power?
On Saturday, Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired at Riyadh’s airport. Adel Al Jubeir, the Saudi Foreign Minister, claimed that the attack was launched by Hezbollah from inside Yemen, with direct Iranian involvement and support. Jubeir claimed that the disassembled missile was delivered to Houthi rebels and then assembled by Hezbollah and Iranian engineers; he called this attack an “act of war” by Iran and asserted Saudi Arabia’s right to defend their kingdom.
The missile in question was a Burkan 2H, which has a maximum range of 1,000 km; it was launched toward King Khaled International Airport and was shot down by an American supplied Patriot missile.
After the launch, Saudi Arabia closed all of its borders with Yemen; the relationship between the countries has long been tense, with Saudi being heavily involved in the two-year-old Yemeni civil war. The conflict has played out as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The day after the thwarted missile attack, the deputy governor of Saudi Arabia’s Asir province was killed in a helicopter crash near the border with Yemen. This deputy governor just happened to be Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, the son of Prince Muqrin al-Saud. His father was the Crown Prince during the reign of King Abdullah; Prince Mansour is a firm opponent of the current Crown Prince Muhammed and his father, the incumbent King Salman. The fatal crash occurred as the Crown Prince took action against wide swaths of potential rivals and opponents to his family’s claim to the throne.
The day of the rocket attack also saw a royal decree that ordered the arrest of nearly a dozen princes and the firing of several senior ministers in the government. Some of those detained were sons of the late King Abdullah; the head of the Saudi National Guard was also arrested. King Salman is expected to abdicate sometime in the next year, with his son becoming the heir apparent this summer after he replaced his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef as the next in line to become monarch.
All of this tumult comes on the heels of further chaos inside Lebanon, as their Prime Minister announced on Saudi media that he was resigning, blaming Iran’s destabilizing influence in his country. He also condemned Hezbollah for attempting to build a “state within a state” in Lebanon. Further escalating tensions, Saudi Arabia followed up their accusations against Iran’s “act of war” with the same charge levelled against the Lebanese government.
It is of note that the former Prime Minister had dual Lebanese and Saudi citizenship; many are speculating that he was pressured by the Saudi Arabian government to step down and publicly denounce the enemies of the Saudi crown.
It appears that the Crown Prince is aligning himself with both the U.S. in their mutual distrust of the government in Tehran; much more surprising is the apparent alliance with Israel against the Iranians. With the elimination of his opposition via the “corruption purge,” the Crown Prince is poised to slide into a position of absolute power in Saudi Arabia.
From all accounts, this seems to play into favor with the current American administration’s goals of forcing the Middle East to execute policy favorable to western interests. President Trump even went so far as to tweet his “great confidence” in King Salman and the Crown Prince.