Middle East: Saudi Arabia’s reckless prince
We’re entering a new phase in the Middle East’s “crisis-ridden history,” said Tamara Qiblawi in CNN.com—and it could be the bloodiest yet. Last weekend, on the same day Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had dozens of princes and top officials detained for corruption, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri unexpectedly traveled to Riyadh and announced his resignation. Presumably acting on the orders of his Saudi “political patrons,” Hariri accused the Iranian-backed militant and political group Hezbollah of taking over his country. Saudi officials then further ramped up pressure on Iran, saying a missile fired at Riyadh by a Tehran-backed militia in Yemen amounted to an “act of war.” These developments represent a “sharp escalation” in the decades-long standoff between Shiite Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia. The two regional powers are already fighting bitter proxy wars in Yemen and Syria. Is Riyadh preparing to take things a step further?
Whatever the Saudis are up to, they’re “dragging Washington with them,” said Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky in ForeignPolicy.com. Riyadh went to great lengths to “woo” President Trump during his state visit in May, and the charm offensive worked. Last week, Trump tweeted praise for the crown prince’s domestic “purge”; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, spent several days in Riyadh with Mohammed last month, suggesting the administration may even have been forewarned. But Trump is playing a risky game. The Saudis cannot take on Iran alone—and they’ll need us to “bail them out when they get in over their heads.” Mohammed’s goal isn’t to fight Iran, or even Hezbollah, said Jane Ferguson in PBS.org. It’s to push Israel into doing it for him. Jerusalem views Tehran’s growing regional dominance as an “existential threat,” and if the Israelis believe Hezbollah has grown too strong, they may feel compelled to act. To do that, though, they’ll want U.S. military aid and assistance.
Mohammed is clearly ambitious, said Marc Lynch in WashingtonPost.com. But the 32-year-old’s foreign policy has “proved disastrous.” The war he championed against Tehran-backed rebels in Yemen is a humanitarian “catastrophe,” with no foreseeable path to victory. His blockade of Qatar, “a quixotic effort to impose Saudi-UAE leadership” on the region, has led to “an entrenched stalemate.” This latest bid for a “rapid, politically popular victory” abroad will follow the same pattern, yielding “a bloody, destabilizing quagmire.” ■