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Even if he becomes king, Mohammed bin Salman will likely be the last

Riyadh has become a puppet of Abu Dhabi, jumping into conflicts without a clear sense of direction
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is received by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in November 2018 (Bandar al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP)

Surrounded by unyielding enemies of its own making, and cheered on by opportunist allies determined to suck its blood to the last drop, Saudi Arabia seems to have landed itself in an unprecedented predicament. 

There has probably been no other day on which its enormous wealth seemed so utterly useless. Now, US President Donald Trump, publicly acting more as a contractor than as a leader of a superpower, is telling his Saudi friends and allies - as he has on several previous occasions - that they must pay generously if they expect him to step in and defend them. 

Though, as one may comprehend from his recent remarks, he would rather not go to war with Iran - which, he believes, will eventually come to the negotiating table, an eventuality he has been longing for. 

Irreparably damaged

Today, it seems more realistic than ever that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), if ever crowned king, will likely be the last monarch in the Saudi dynasty.

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Who is rejoicing most at such a prospect?

Don’t jump to conclusions: it is neither the Iranians nor the Qataris, but rather his ostensibly closest allies in the region, the Emiratis. It is, in particular, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, and the de facto ruler of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ). 

The once Saudi-held role of a Muslim world leader has been irreparably damaged, thanks to the intrigues and efforts of MBZ, who not only embroiled the kingdom in spearheading the fight against the aspirations of the Arab peoples of the Middle East and North Africa for freedom and democracy, but has consistently whispered into the ear of the erratic MBS that he could indeed become king, if only he heeded his advice. 

Saudi jets massacre helpless civilians across Yemen day and night, while an exit out of this swamp seems out of reach

MBZ’s recommendations have always led to disaster for Saudi Arabia. The conflict in Yemen has transformed into a war of attrition for the kingdom and a historic opportunity for the UAE.

While the former continues to bleed heavily, the latter has embarked on a campaign of dividing Yemen once more into two, if not more, entities, while seizing control of the country’s most strategic ports along the Red Sea coast and offshore. 

Going to war in Yemen is believed to have originally been an MBZ idea. The plan was to use the pro-Iranian Houthis, who were then confined to the Saada enclave in northern Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia’s most southern province, as a tool to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate in Yemen, the Islah party, which seemed destined to win power through the ballot box if Yemeni democracy were allowed to succeed. 

The plan backfired because, seeing the trap set for them, Islah decided not to engage the Houthis, who at the time were allied with the troops commanded by the late former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The long-time Yemeni autocrat was in cahoots with the Emiratis and the Saudis right from the start. 

No winners in Yemen

The Houthis were unhampered in their conquest of Yemen, and much of the country soon came under their control. Of course, the Saudis and their UAE leaders knew that the Houthis were an Iranian proxy group, but they assumed they were cleverer than the Iranians and the Yemenis, in that they could embroil the Houthis and Islah in a self-destructive conflict to the benefit of their own ally, Saleh. 

Apart from MBZ, there are no winners in Yemen today. The country has been devastated, divided and truly returned to the stone age. Saudi jets massacre helpless civilians across Yemen day and night, while an exit out of this swamp seems out of reach. 

Smoke billows after an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa in April 2018 (AFP)
Smoke billows after an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition in Sanaa in April 2018 (AFP)

Understandably, in the meantime, Iranian involvement in Yemen has grown deeper by the hour. On the one hand, Iran is providing support and protection for its proxy, but on the other, this conflict has been a gift from heaven for the Iranians, who have always aimed to expand across the region.

As some zealots once boasted, Iran now occupies four Arab countries: Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. All of this thanks to the Saudi lack of vision and lack of wisdom. 

But while pretending to fight Iran and its proxies, the Saudis and their UAE allies have actually been fighting the biggest, most important and most popular Sunni groups in the Arab world, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates – including Hamas, which could, if embraced, have helped to mitigate the growing Iranian influence across the region. 

The Qatar blockade

It was also upon the personal recommendations of MBZ that MBS went after a founding member state of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar, setting in motion the rapid decline of the sole relatively successful Arab umbrella organisation. An air, sea and land blockade was imposed on Qatar in June 2017. 

It turned out that the blockade was, in fact, announced after plans to invade the gas-rich state and topple its regime were abandoned, under pressure from the US and due to immediate and strong Turkish and Iranian gestures of support for Qatar.

The initial justification for the hostility with Qatar was claimed to have been its relationship with Iran, a relationship that was only bolstered on many levels as a result of the blockade. 

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Just as several major Sunni groups blacklisted by the Saudis and Emiratis were driven towards forging a working relationship with Iran, so were the Qataris. Then came a long list of charges and demands that only made the Saudis look foolishly nonsensical and erratic. 

The Saudi predicament deepens by the hour - and now Iraq seems to have jumped into the playground. 

According to exclusive information obtained by MEE, the recent attacks that paralysed the Saudi oil industry were carried out by Iranian drones launched from Hashd al-Shaabi bases in southern Iraq, in retaliation for Israeli drone strikes on Hashd al-Shaabi bases and convoys in August, which were co-ordinated and funded by the Saudis.  

Lack of vision

An Iraqi intelligence source was quoted by MEE as saying that “the latest attack comes for two reasons: another message from Iran to USA and its allies that as long as its siege on Iran continues no one will have stability in the region.

"However, the second more direct reason is a strong Iranian revenge for the recent Israeli attacks by drones launched from Syrian Democratic Forces controlled areas in Syria against pro-Iranian Hashd bases.”

Why would the Saudis fund and coordinate Israeli attacks anywhere in the Arab region, let alone in Iraq? Is it an attempt to win the heart of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the mind of Trump? There are no signs of any success in this regard. 

Could it be lack of vision? Lack of wisdom? Lack of any sense of direction? Could it be all of this and more? You bet!

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Azzam Tamimi is a British Palestinian academic and political activist. He is currently the Chairman of Alhiwar TV Channel and is its Editor in Chief.
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