What You Need to Know About Saudi Arabia’s Real Life Game of Thrones

(ANTIMEDIA Op-Ed) According to Reuters, a royal decree has relieved Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef of his post as Crown Prince, as well as his role as First Deputy Prime Minister. He has been replaced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman’s 31-year-old son. The promotion confirms the king’s son as the next ruler of the kingdom over Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew.

Prince Salman has now become deputy prime minister and retains his ministerial responsibilities, including his role as minister of defense (he is the youngest defense minister in the world). As Reuters notes, even as deputy crown prince, Prince Salman has been responsible for running Saudi Arabia’s war of aggression in neighboring Yemen. This war has seen countless civilians murdered, civilian infrastructure completely decimated, and millions of people pushed to the brink of starvation.

As Foreign Policy noted, the promotion could also mean that Prince Salman will rule the country for at least the next fifty years given that he is still relatively young. This in itself is quite a promotion considering the manner in which he rose from insignificance to major role in politics only a few years ago. FP explains:

“The shake-up was widely anticipated, though its timing was not. Mohammed bin Salman began consolidating his control over government portfolios from the moment he rose from obscurity to become deputy crown prince in 2015. Back then, there was scarcely a diplomat in Riyadh who could remember shaking his hand. Today, he controls almost all of Saudi Arabia’s levers of power, domestic and foreign, either directly or through a growing network of young, like-minded appointees. [emphasis added]

As some may recall, 2015 was the same year Saudi Arabia formally launched its war in Yemen, approximately two months after Salman was appointed defense minister.

Prince Salman’s war in Yemen has been the complete opposite of what counter-terrorism should involve. Yemen is home to both al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS, yet Saudi bombs rarely target these two radical terror groups (if at all).

In contrast, as Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, Mohammed bin Nayef has been heavily responsible for issues like national security, making his hardline approach to domestic extremism influential. As FP explains, Mohammed bin Nayef was essentially one of al-Qaeda’s worst nightmares within Saudi Arabia:

“Western allies had also taken heart when Mohammed bin Nayef was first named to the line of succession shortly after King Salman took power in 2015. As the West’s main Saudi security partner in a crackdown against al Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, he is a man they know well. Famed for his firm hand against extremists, Mohammed bin Nayef has survived four assassination attempts, one of which by an al Qaeda suicide bomber in 2009 — left him slightly injured.[emphasis added]

The very man who effectively dismantled al-Qaeda’s networks within Saudi Arabia has been ousted from his position as second in line to the Saudi throne, and he has been replaced with a man who isn’t even remotely concerned that AQAP and ISIS are wreaking havoc on Saudi Arabia’s border.

Further, his successor was formerly regarded as being one of the masterminds behind the current Saudi-Qatar denigration. Now that Prince Salman is almost all but set to lead the country in the very near future, we can expect these relationships to continue to deteriorate.

“It has long been assumed that [Mohammed bin Salman] was prominent in the decision to join or start the blockade of Qatar. Now we know,” noted David Roberts, an assistant professor at King’s College London and the author of Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-State, FP reports.

According to the New York Times:

“The removal of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who had warm relations with the emir of Qatar and his father, could make it even harder for the tiny nation to reach an accommodation with its neighbors, analysts said. And some wondered whether the young prince’s assertiveness would further destabilize the region.”

The war in Yemen, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-Qatar crisis and Saudi Arabia’s overt animosity towards Iran – the current driving force between Saudi Arabia’s spat with Qatar – can all be pinned back to Prince Salman on some level.

But there is another often overlooked elephant in the room that makes the timing of this event increasingly suspicious: Saudi Arabia’s current relationship with Israel.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly in talks to officially form economic ties with Israel. According to some reports, Prince Salman himself has already met with top Israeli officials, and his position as the nation’s future leader seems to indicate that this relationship will continue to grow unabated.

Anyone who still believes religion is the major driving force in today’s wars while the most radical Islamic nation on the planet, Saudi Arabia, shuns another Sunni-majority nation in favor of a hardline Jewish state that oppresses its Muslim population quite heavily is not paying close enough attention.

While the newly appointed Crown Prince is reportedly attempting to modernize and reform the country, some are not feeling very hopeful. The fact that Prince Salman already met with President Trump in March of this year and that, in turn, Trump has pledged overwhelming support for Saudi Arabia in almost all of its regional ambitions, speaks volumes.

As explained by Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, this new appointment may only aggravate the region further:

“This is a time when we really need some quiet diplomacy…We need cool-headed politicians who are able to defuse tensions rather than inflame them. There has been a far more aggressive stance in Saudi foreign policy under King Salman, and now it might get worse.”

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