Saudi King Shuffles Succession, Hawkish DM Is Now Crown Prince

Claudine Rigal
Juin 26, 2017

In a surprise change of leadership at the helm of Saudi Arabia's monarchial hierarchy, the country's king has replaced his nephew with his son Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz as the crown prince.

President Trump, who hosted bin Salman at the White House in March, offered his congratulations in a phone conversation Wednesday. But former USA administration officials said the effects of such action could be counterproductive.

"We know we are a main target of Iran", the prince said, adding that conflict between the Sunni-led kingdom and Shi'ite-led Iran appeared inevitable.

If the administration gives US commanders greater authority to respond to Iranian air and naval provocations in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, things could easily spiral out of control, the official said.

Gulf citizens including Emiratis and Bahrainis also supported the news. US military jets twice this month shot down Iranian-made drones threatening USA and coalition forces in southeastern Syria.

Its budget pressured by low oil prices, Riyadh slashed the allowances last September to save money, but announced in April that it was restoring them to stimulate economic growth and because its first-quarter deficit was smaller than expected.

According to a former United States government expert on Middle East affairs, the most risky aspect of the Trump administration was for the USA to be cajoled into the Muslim Sunni-Shi'ite rift going on across the Middle East. For over two years Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen with impunity, triggering a humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, but without attaining the stated objective of defeating the Houthis. "This will be just enough to be annoying but not enough to be considered 'retaliating, '" he said. He has since accumulated vast powers, serving as defense minister, overseeing the state oil monopoly, working to overhaul the Saudi economy and building ties with foreign leaders, including President Trump. He also led a multi-nation effort to isolate neighbouring Qatar, causing a rift among fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Qatar denies the charges of supporting extremism.

Trump and his team see the prince as serious about pursuing economic and social reforms in Saudi Arabia, though they still aren't sure how far or at what pace he is able to proceed, the second official said.

But perhaps most importantly, he also holds the critical position of gatekeeper to his father, King Salman, who in Saudi Arabia's absolute monarchy retains the final say in any major decision of state.

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