Many analysts see the purge as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s attempt to consolidate his power ahead of his ascension to the throne when his 81-year-old father King Salman abdicates, which is expected to happen in the next few months.
Holly Ellyatt, correspondent for CNBC.com says in her article, “There is also the view that the crown prince has aimed to get rid of conservative rivals who might try to halt his plans for change in the country.” There may be more coming in Saudi Arabia’s push against corruption, as on Sunday the country’s chief legal advisor called the crackdown the completion of “phase one of our anti-corruption push.”
Some fear that the purge may scare away investors. On Tuesday, Emad Mostaque, co-chief investment officer at Capricorn Fund Managers, told CNBC that there ware questions over whether the crown prince could go too far. “He (Mohammed bin Salman) has been incredibly decisive at the moment in getting things sorted but the question is does he veer over the line and go beyond what the law says – which he, of course, can change – to overdoing it in terms of the crackdown?”
Also on Monday, the Kingdom accused Iran of being behind a ballistic missile attack carried out by Houthi militias in Yemen. Saudi Arabia said that the missiles were intercepted as they headed to the Saudi capital Riyadh. The Kingdom condemned
the missile launch, and said that its regional arch-rival Iran was to blame for what it called “flagrant military aggression,” and that it had supplied the Houthi militias in Yemen with missiles.
Ellyatt writes, “There is an ongoing civil war in Yemen, mainly between rebel Houthi militias and allied forces backing Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. However, the conflict is also something of a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran and their competing ideologies of Sunni and Shia Islam, respectively. While Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia backs the government of President Hadi, its rival Iran backs the pro-Shia Houthi movement that is loyal to the country’s former president Ali Abdulla Saleh.”
According a report by the Saudi Press Agency, Crown Prince bin Salman was said to have told British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in a phone call on Tuesday, that his country considered the Houthi missile directed at Riyadh a “a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime” and said it “may be considered an act of war against the Kingdom,”
In Lebanon, religious divergences and competition for influence in the Middle East has Saudi Arabia and Iran backing opposing sides.
In a surprising move on Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a long-term Sunni ally of Saudi Arabia, resigned, citing assassination threats and blaming Iran for interference in Lebanon. He criticized the growing power of Iran-backed Shia militia and political party Hezbollah, which was part of Lebanon’s fragile coalition government. According to Press TV reports, Iran rejected Hariri’s remarks.
On Monday, Moody’s ratings agency said that Hariri’s resignation “threatens to disrupt the fragile political balance in place” in Lebanon and that the resignation has occurred within the context of “an intensifying power struggle” between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In another Saudi bombshell, the country said Monday that Lebanon had effectively declared war against it because of aggression from Hezbollah, who is represented in the Lebanese parliament, and was part of Hariri’s coalition government.
Thamer al-Sabhan, Saudi Gulf Affairs Minister, said the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” and Reuters reported, citing comments from an Al-Arabiya TV interview with Sabhan, that he said, “Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return.”
These developments have prompted concerns in the Middle East that there might be an escalation of tensions between between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for stability in the region, telling CNBC in an interview at the weekend that many countries would be vulnerable to an escalation of tensions.