It is a tumultuous and turbulent time in the Middle East.
The consolidation of power to a newly appointed [apparently modernist] crown prince in Saudi Arabia together with heightened conflict from Yemen’s Houthi rebels and hostile rhetoric against Lebanon and Iran is taking the Arab world towards a significant tectonic shift.
Inside the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi, we have a newly appointed crown prince who may be popular for his contemporary views, instituting swift and modernist reforms in an attempt to transform the kingdom’s socio-economic landscape.
Days after the ultra-conservative Muslim country announced that women can drive and would soon be permitted inside sports stadiums, the ambitious 32-year-old crown prince Mohammed ibn Salman also headed an anti-corruption drive that resulted in the arrest of 11 princes, [the execution of one for resisting arrest] along with 38 other officials and businessmen. Of course, this move is also a blatant attempt to consolidate the Kingdom’s wealth that was once placed under the stewardship of many other family members - who may have put their personal interests above those of the kingdom. More importantly, the 'coup' is an attempt to legitimise Mohammed ibn Salman power by putting other family members who would contest it at the perimeter of the state and with a sense of fear of asset sequestration.
Among ibn Salman’s notable accomplishments [or disasters] is putting Saudi in an offensive forefront by leading the campaign against both Qatar economically and diplomatically, and militarily against Yemen.
It is no surprise then that his ascent to power was greeted by alleged Iranian-made, long-range ballistic missile launched by Yemeni Houthi rebels [ostensibly provided by Iran] from the Saudi-Yemeni border. Intercepted before it could even hit Riyadh, Saudi responded with a statement that the missile is “a direct military aggression” by Iran against Saudi – further causing tension against already fragile relations between the Arab countries. The situation was escalated by involving Lebanon into the fray and the resignation [maybe forced] of its Prime minister who for long historical reasons, enjoys joint Saudi-Lebanese citizenship.
Judging the demeanour of Saudi’s new crown prince’s penchant for belligerence, he will not think twice at initiating an offensive campaign against the internal and external enemies of the Kingdom – a strong character, he has often exhibited a desire for head-on conflict with powerful family members or hostile neighbours. There seems to be a card at play here on where he is drawing his confidence from – and that card appears to be backing from the US and Israel.
Hours after the arrests of potential powerful adversaries last weekend in Riyadh, including billionaire Al Waleed, a staunch critic of Trump and one of the largest shareholders of Citi, Newscorp and Twitter, Trump tweeted that he fully supports King Salman and the Crown Prince and is fully confident of their recent actions - inferring that those arrested had been milking the Kingdom and deserved harsh treatment.
Of course, Trump has every reason to be so supportive of the crown prince. The US needs the Saudi’s for more reasons than the Saudi’s need the Americans. For the US, of which it has always been since 1974 – is to continue the Nixon arrangement by keeping the US Dollar as the currency of choice for the trade in oil. The Americans counter with massive exclusive arms sales, the latest of which is a US$100billion + arms package during Trump’s last visit to the Kingdom. It is a relationship that has kept the Saudi’s under the sphere of the Americans. For as long as there is conflict – either internally or with its neighbours – the Saudi’s run to the US for support. The bonus of such machinations is a rising oil price, thereby benefitting the Saudi treasury.