FeaturedInternationalVolume 13 Issue # 17

Imperilling the peace of the Middle East

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has crossed many red lines to change the world perception of his country and the Middle East. His vision aims to modernize the Kingdom and end its dependence on oil. He desires to establish formal relations with Israel, but it will not only create resentment in his own country but also in all Arab and Muslim states of the world.


Weeks ago, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to a commercial Indian flight to Israel, with the inauguration of an Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv. Israel’s flag carrier El Al also hopes to be allowed to use Saudi airspace after the crown prince said that Israelis “have the right to have their own land” and that formal relations between Israel and the kingdom could be mutually beneficial. The development came at a time when the Israeli forces had killed at least 18 Palestinians in a week during Hamas-led protests near the Gaza border.


The thaw between the two states also marks the hardening of the Saudi and the US stance against Iran. In a recent interview to the US media, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia said he saw the Jewish state as an attractive regional economic and technological hub as well as a potential partner in the kingdom’s cold war with Iran. Instead of seeing Israel as an enemy, he has recognized Israel’s right to exist, preferably in the context of a peace deal with Palestinians. In an interview, the prince played down the extent of anti-Semitism in Saudi society, which has historically been reinforced by government clerics and textbooks. “Our country doesn’t have a problem with Jews and many Jews work in the kingdom,” he added.


As his stance on Israel softens, he considers Iran the biggest threat to the region and the world. “I believe the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes Hitler look good. Hitler didn’t do what the supreme leader is trying to do. Hitler tried to conquer Europe. The supreme leader is trying to conquer the world,” he told a newspaper during his recent US visit. “He has made all the right enemies. Among those who would celebrate his end are the leaders of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas, as well as Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and the entire clerical and military leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a bonus, there are members of his own family, the sprawling, sclerotic, self-dealing House of Saud, who would like to see him gone—or at the very least, warehoused at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh, where the 32-year-old prince recently imprisoned many of his enemies and cousins during an anti-corruption sweep of the kingdom,” the New York Times said.


However, his anti-graft campaign was tainted when he bragged of receiving classified US intelligence from Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, and using it as part of a purge of “corrupt” princes and businessmen. According to the Daily Mail, he has been boasting about his close relationship with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and the intelligence which he has told his circle Kushner passed to him. He also told members of his close circle that the intelligence included information on who was disloyal to him. “Jared took a list out of names from US eavesdrops of people who were supposedly the prince’s enemies. He took a list out of these people who had been trashing him in phone calls, and said these are the ones who are your enemies,” it said, quoting an unnamed source. The crackdown on “corruption” in Saudi Arabia was led by him in November, days after he had met Kushner for talks in Riyadh. It saw allegations of torture as hundreds were rounded up, including princes from rival parts of the Saudi royal family and some of the country’s wealthiest businessmen. Newspapers ran a photograph showing the detainees sleeping on the floor of a ballroom at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, and some had been tortured. The New York Times later reported that one of the detainees had died from his injuries. Most are said to have reached “settlements” with the Saudi government, and Mohammed bin Salman himself boasted in an interview that the government had regained at least $100 billion from them. Later, Kushner claimed through his attorney that it was a “false story.” He said: “The alleged exchange never happened. Kushner was and is well aware of the rules governing information and follows the rules.” The action on the classified intelligence means the US must have removed the potential threat from its way.


The prince has divided the Middle East into two warring camps. For him, the “triangle of evil,” consists of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sunni terror groups and an alliance of “moderate states” that includes Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman. There was no surprise when Arab leaders remained quiet after 18 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli forces during Hamas-led protests near Gaza’s border with Israel. Later, ten more innocent civilians were massacred. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other Muslim countries condemned Israel for the lethal response to protests that did not pose a serious threat to its soldiers. In contrast, the Arab world largely remained silent, apparently because Israel’s behaviour is less worrisome to most Arab leaders than the Palestinian group Hamas and its allies, such as Iran. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and their allies share Israel’s hostility to Hamas, which governs Gaza. On the other hand, Iran has expanded its influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.


All Arab and Muslim countries have viewed Israel as their enemy and the main destabilising factor in the Middle East since its inception. Efforts of the crown prince prove he can go to any extent to counter Iran which is the main objective of the US. The unlikely thaw between Saudi Arabia and Israel aims to contain Iranian influence in the region but it is not without dangers. Fewer efforts are required to make peace with Iran, which will benefit the whole Muslim world. The US has no permanent friends or enemies. It is driven by interests only. The US has recently signed a $350 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. It was the largest in American and human history. The huge amount could have transformed the lives of the people of Saudi Arabia. The Shia are part of every Muslim society. Sunnis and Shias have lived peacefully for centuries. Shias are also almost 15pc of the Saudi population. They cannot be eliminated. Lasting peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran will not only benefit the two countries but also all Muslim states and the world.