No one should minimize the dramatic events that are occurring in Saudi Arabia. It is also much too early to try to explain the actual reasons for the internal regime upheavals, but some facts are clear. There are also some outside players who are heavily vested in the results. This power upheaval will undoubtedly present enormous challenges.
The newly appointed or designated heir to King Salman was feeling seriously threatened by a possible coup from members of the ruling family who did not want or accept him. The 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman–the monarch-to-be—felt or feared a need to demonstrate that he indeed was going to move the kingdom in a more modernizing direction. The bodies he rolled were the deadwood he felt needed to be removed so he could proceed with his agenda. Regardless of how the events unfolded, the results are clear. Assuming he has full control of all the military and security services, he will move ahead. Where he will go, how solid is his political control, how fast he will reform, and whether there will be a counter coup remains to be seen.
As for the outside players the cast is wide and the coalitions fascinating, curious, and not totally explicable. At first glance it appears that Iran and Yemen are the regional targets of the new Saudi leaders. Iran has always been the Saudi rival religiously, economically, and politically. Today the Saudis view Iran as a serious military threat and rival especially as the supplier and supporter of its Yemeni foes. Iran appears to be inciting the Yemini rebels who have been provoking a civil war in Yemen and launching attacks on their Saudi adversaries.
For the Trump Administration as well as for Israel, the Saudi Kingdom’s stability is important in opposing Iran and its potential nuclear threat. The quiet growth of Israel’s relationship with the Saudis as well as other oil rich Gulf countries has been productive for the Sisi Government in Egypt as well as well as for Israel. Israel is now in a position where Egypt has joined in the fight against Hamas and especially ISIS in the Sinai desert. It is conceivable that the Saudi turmoil has contributed to bringing Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority into what could become a mutually advantageous relationship. All of this is to the benefit of the Saudi’s continued maintenance of control on regional leadership.
The other unknown player in this evolving power play is Russia. Not only is Iran and Syria’s patron seeking not to alienate the Saudi military, but also the Kremlin recognizes the enormous power that the Saudis still possess in orchestrating global oil production. The Crown Prince will need all his wiles to engage Putin, while at the same time keeping his domestic rivals and sharks at bay.
A Challenging Day
Election Day 2017 presents two major state-wide races which have immediate significance, as do other local contests. These local races general point more to future trends in general while there is genuine potential significance in the governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia. It would appear that most analysts pick the Democrat Phil Murphy to win in New Jersey, but the race in Virginia appears to me much closer than expected.
Virginia is a must win for the Democrats if they hope to establish themselves as serious challengers to regain control of one or more Houses of Congress in 2018. Any spinning as to how they lost—should that occur—will carry no weight. As Trump did not really campaign in Virginia, if the Republicans win Trump can extol the strength of his GOP, while if they lose he can claim it proves how much the party needs him.