Amid the political drama that has been rattling the Middle East, from the battle to liberate Mosul to terrorist attacks in Tehran and the Riyadh-Doha brawl, the news of Muhammad Bin Salman’s appointment as heir to the throne by his father King Salman of Saudi Arabia did not sound as music to the ears of politicians around globe.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made his son Mohammad bin Salman his successor, removing his nephew as the Crown Prince. With this, King Salman not only made his succession plan clear but also gave the 31-year old Mohammad bin Salman almost unprecedented powers in the world’s leading oil exporting nation. A royal decree also removed King Salman’s 57-year-old nephew Crown Prime Mohammaed bin Nayef. Before the elevation, Mohammad bin Salman was the deputy crown prince and he also hold the defence portfolio of the country.
According to a report by Aljazeera, very little was known to Saudis and people outside about the young prince before his father Salman became the king in January 2015. Prior to this, Prince Salman was in-charge of his father’s royal court when his father was the Crown Prince.
Prince Salman is known to have high ambitions, including an overhaul of Saudi economy by reducing its reliance on oil. Last year Mohammed bin Salman, or “MBS” as he is widely known, had announced several changes aimed at ending the kingdom’s reliance to oil. This was a part of his campaign to tackle systemic challenges that the kingdom has previously failed to address, according to Reuters.
Since his rapid ascension to power in 2015, the young and ambitious prince has been viewed with suspicion by everyone, mainly for his role as the key driver of Riyadh’s transformation from a conservative monarchy into a belligerent and aggressive regional power. MBS is particularly detested for waging a war against Yemen, and for his backing of rebels in Syria where Iran has been steadfast in defense of its longtime ally Bashar Assad during the past six years. In unusually strong remarks against Saudi Arabia in April of 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei criticized the country for letting its foreign policy to be controlled by “a bunch of inexperienced youngsters”, a thinly veiled reference to Bin Salman.
No reaction to the new appointment has been given by senior officials of the country so far, neither official tribune has reflected the general feeling in Pakistan. Although, there is heated debate carried out in border country Iran. They reminded MBS of the fate of Saddam Hussein whom waged an 8-year war against Iran without ultimate success. Likewise, one of the Tehran’s leaders scoffed at the Saudi crown prince as too weak to be taken seriously.
Besides this, the moves made by the new Saudi crown prince are similar to those of the former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein prior to attacking Iran in the 1980s. The secretary of the Iran’s Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezaei, in a post on his Instagram page, has enumerated the similarities between the moves made by both men
Rezaei’s post reads, “The moves [currently] being made in Saudi Arabia are very much analogous to the developments in Iraq before the country attacked Iran. Prior to Saddam’s invasion of Iran, following a coup, he toppled [the then Iraqi president Ahmed] Hassan al-Bakr and occupied his [al-Bakr’s] post, martyred Ayatollah [Muhammad Baqir] al-Sadr [Iraqi Shiite cleric and philosopher] and met [the then US president’s national security advisor] Brzezinski in Jordan.”
“This is while Mohammad Bin Salman has martyred Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr [prominent Shiite cleric], has met Trump in Washington, and is bringing down his opponents in the Al Saud ruling family,” Rezaei, a former IRGC commander, added.
“They [the Saudis] either intend to gain dominance over all the emirates and the Persian Gulf littoral states in the south including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and [the UAE’s] Dubai and Sharjah, or plan to embark on a new adventure in the Persian Gulf and against Iran.”
The transformations taking place at the Saudi royal family could possibly have very significant implications for Iran and in a Middle-East-in-transition. The ascension of a young anti-Iran Muhammad Bin Salman to the throne could translate into a long spell of anti-Iran policy in Saudi Arabia and a stop to diplomatic, peaceful solution of the crises in Yemen and Syria.
An increase in proxy wars, attempts to spread influence inside Iran, campaigns to add regional and international pressure on Iran, closer relations with Israel and its anti-Iran policies, and approach towards Iran’s allies, including Russia are some foreseeable developments to arrive with increasing power of the young Saudi Prince.
Even if a staunch anti-Iran figure, Muhammad Bin Salman is the reality of Saudi Arabia today. Many believe the unorthodox move of selecting MBS as heir to the throne is not the beginning of Saudi Arabia’s downfall, but the first step towards emergence of a more powerful and modern Saudi Arabia in the future.