Mohammed bin Salman has taken a hard line on Qatar, Iran, and Yemen
The US may be increasingly caught up in the region's escalating political tensions
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has elevated his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman to first in line to the throne, in a dramatic reordering of the kingdom’s line of succession that will have far-reaching consequences for the key US ally and the Middle East as a whole.
In a series of royal decrees issued overnight, the King, 81, removed his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince and installed Mohammed Bin Salman in his place.
The newly-anointed crown prince was also appointed deputy prime minister and will continue in his role as defense minister, in which he has overseen the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Was this unexpected?
While the announcement may have taken many by surprise, the move had been a long time coming. The fact that the King had handed his son so much power internally in recent years gave Saudi watchers the impression that he was being groomed for leadership.
It felt like only a matter of time before the now former crown prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, 57, was outmaneuvered. There had also been speculation that the crown would need to drop down a generation at some point.
The youthful Mohammed Bin Salman – who was already second in line before the reshuffle – was the obvious choice to modernize the monarchy while consolidating power.
What does it mean for the US?
The key US priorities in the Middle East are stability and predictability, and the appointment of the relatively inexperienced Mohammed bin Salman is undoubtedly a shift away from that.
As defense minister, the prince has taken a hard line with Qatar, Iran and Yemen – and the US should expect to find itself increasingly caught up in the ebb and flow of the region’s ever-increasing political tensions.
The current diplomatic crisis between the Saudis and Qatar – Riyadh is trying to isolate Doha over claims that the latter supports terrorism – is a study in diplomatic tightrope-walking for the US.
Washington is publicly backing the Saudis over the spat – which has been led on the Saudi side by the new crown prince – while at the same time maintaining its large military base in Qatar.
Now, with a more gung-ho crown prince set to take charge, it is fair to assume that the Saudis will double down on its hardline positions on Qatar, Iran and the Yemen conflict.
What does it mean for Qatar?
In the short term, it’s hard to tell. The message to Qatar is clear: Expect more of the same. Mohammed bin Salman’s appointment means that the hard line taken by the Saudis is here to stay – and that no older, wiser voices are going to swoop in and moderate the stance any time soon.
What does it mean for Iran?
The move will further destabilize an already dangerously unstable situation.
Earlier in June, the Iranians pointed the finger at Saudi for a terror attack in their capital, Tehran. They then used this as a reason to fire missiles into Syria – a shot across the proverbial Saudi bow.
Tension between the two has been slowly building recently, and Mohammed bin Salman has taken a hard line against Iran. “We are a primary target for the Iranian regime,” he said in one recent interview. “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia. Instead, we’ll work so that the battle is for them in Iran.”