Solutions to Control Mohammad bin Salman’s Aggressive Policy

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Mohammad Reza Moradi
West Asia Expert

The skillful game started by Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman to phase out the former crown prince, Muhammad bin Nayef, has finally reached its end and after removing Nayef from his post, Saudi King Salman has appointed Mohammad bin Salman, who is also his son, as the new crown prince. This is the first time in the 85-year history of Saudi Arabia that a king delegates his powers to his son, because it was a tradition to delegate the king’s powers to his brother. However, despite all criticism and opposition, this important task has been finally pulled off and now, Saudi Arabia must be viewed from the standpoint of Salman’s family, because after recent changes, the power has been totally transferred from Abdulaziz family to Salman family. This issue has evoked various reactions at three domestic, regional and international levels, because experts are well aware of the consequences of appointing a 32-year-old and almost inexperienced youth as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince. The question is what consequences will follow domination of Bin Salman’s views on Saudi Arabia’s domestic and foreign policies? At the first sight, it will seem that due to the aggressive policy adopted by the new Saudi crown prince, who is ready to take risks, we will see a faceoff between Saudi Arabia’s regional policies and rivals and enemies of the country. The most important consequences of his appointment can be summarized as follows.

Intensification of hostility against Iran

During the past two and a half years, as Saudi Arabia’s defense minister and deputy crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman had clearly announced time and again that Iran is his most important target and had even vowed to take the war to Iran. Before recent changes, however, Nayef was somehow a stumbling block on the way of his expansionist and extremist policies. Of course, Nayef’s views were also sometimes aggressive, but his behavior was more rational as compared to that of Bin Salman. Now that this big obstacle has been removed, Bin Salman will try to first of all mount pressure on Iran's regional allies such as the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, Ansarullah in Yemen, popular forces in Iraq, and resistance forces in Syria. This issue was evident in a list of 13 conditions that Saudi Arabia set for improving relations with Qatar one day after Salman became the crown prince. On the other hand, in the face of Iran, Bin Salman will try to draw a wedge between Iran and some member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council such as Qatar, Kuwait and  Oman. Therefore, intensification of hostilities and enmity against Iran will be one of the most important consequences of appointment of Salman as the crown prince.


Expansion of relations with Israel

During the past two years, there have been frequent meetings between official and semi-officials authorities from Saudi Arabia and Israel. However, such exchanges were kept very secret before Salman bin Abdulaziz became king and few, if any, reports were released on them. Mohammad bin Salman is behind efforts made to bring these relations into the light. He is bent on modernizing Saudi Arabia and his economic reforms plan, called the 2030 document, as well as investment in various fields of technology are evidence to this. Bin Salman believes that the United States is the solution for modernization of Saudi Arabia and relations with Israel are considered as the portal through which Washington’s support can be obtained. Therefore, he is sure to do more to normalize relations with Israel both as the crown prince and the king and this issue will be directly translated into total termination of Saudi Arabia’s support for various Palestinian groups. Of course, such support had been remarkably limited during past years.

Increasing pressures on Qatar

The crisis on the Arabian Peninsula started on June 5, 2017, after a group of Arab states led by Riyadh – known as Group 3+1 and including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – decided to cut diplomatic relations with Qatar. This crisis is good proof to Bin Salman’s expansionist plans in the Arab world, because it shows that he seeks to dominate such smaller Arab countries as Qatar and Kuwait. Under the present circumstances, his appointment as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince  will cause this crisis to evolve into more complicated dimensions. In fact, setting 13 conditions by Saudi Arabia for restoring ties with Qatar has shown that Bin Salman is trying to turn Qatar into a Saudi province, because accepting these conditions will totally do away with independence of Qatar. Therefore, it seems that Bin Salman has set these conditions, already knowing that Qatar would oppose them, in order to have adequate excuse to use force against Qatar. This aggressive policy and the attitude held by Bin Salman as Saudi Arabia’s crown prince will prove to be a stumbling block on the way of settling disputes with Qatar.

Similar to Qatar and Syria, other regional issues will be undoubtedly affected by domestic changes in Saudi Arabia. A very important point, however, which exists in this regard is the support accorded to Bin Salman in Riyadh by the US President Donald Trump in Washington. Sharing a relatively similar way of thinking, these two leaders can potentially get the Middle East region engulfed in more security dilemmas than before. This state of affairs will pose many threats to regional security and Iran, as an important actor in this region, must find a solution to counter these threats. Perhaps, one of the best solutions for Iran is to form a regional front of such countries as Turkey, Qatar, Oman, Iraq, Lebanon and so forth against expansionist policies of Saudi Arabia. Of course, these countries cannot be easily convinced to form a front against Saudi Arabia, but the case of Qatar can be taken as a factor and variable to convince them to do this. This is true because Qatar is just a starting point for Bin Salman’s expansionist policies and purchasing 110 billion dollars worth of weapons from the United States, without a doubt, is in line with Bin Salman’s plans. This point can be a warning to other member states of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council as well. In addition, European countries have not been very happy with changes brought about by Bin Salman and potentialities of European actors can be also taken advantage of to mount pressure on Saudi Arabia. Of course, Iran's own media diplomacy potentialities must not be ignored in this regard, because in parallel to official diplomacy, public diplomacy must be also pursued with regard to this issue.


*Photo Credit: Daily-Pakistan

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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