More Animosity with Iran Expected As Saudi King Appoints New Crown Prince

The appointment of Mohammed bin Salman means that confrontation with Iran will continue, Valdai Club expert Alastair Crooke believes.

The new Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is known for his staunch anti-Iran views and this will be reflected in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, says Alistair Crooke, former British diplomat, founder and director of the Beirut-based Conflicts Forum.

According to Crooke, Prince Mohammed’s appointment was not unexpected. “What has happened has not come as a shock to anyone who follows Saudi Arabia,” he told in a telephone interview. “It was expected that at some point he would try to make a move to become the successor to the king and that has been evident over the last period quite openly.”  

However, his rise is a matter of certain controversy in Saudi Arabia. “For the first time, the succession is not passing in a traditional way – to brothers of King Abdul-Aziz, but it is moving to another generation – to the grandsons of King Abdul-Aziz,” the expert said. “It is obviously going to be controversial, not only because Prince Mohammed bin Salman is young, but this is the first time a king has tried to give the succession not in a traditional manner, but to give it directly to his own son.”

Young and ambitious, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, 31, has a very high profile in the country, Crooke said. “He makes a point of his youth and is trying to build relationship with a country which he says is mostly composed of young people. He has cast himself as a reformer, introduced a document written by a western think tank on a vision for 2030 which is supposed to lessen Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil and he has also shown willingness to push back against some aspects of the Wahhabi clerical establishment”.

His appointment means that confrontation with Iran will continue, Crooke believes. “His signature foreign policy has two things. One is his advocacy and initiation of the war in Yemen, which has been the source of much civilian suffering and many deaths. Secondly, his hostility towards Iran.”

Importantly, many of the prince’s associates, even if not the prince himself, speak of the conflict with Iran in terms of religious struggle, or jihad, against Shia apostasy, Crooke said. Also, they label various Shia groups, including those fighting ISIS in Iraq, as terrorist organizations. These are important indications of how the prince views Iran.

“He is the architect of trying to mobilize the Sunni Arab world against Iran, and he has said quite provocatively in this last period that he wanted to take the war inside Iran, so this is now the framework in which he now becomes the Crown Prince,” Crooke concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.