Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the youthful, ambitious son of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz who is also the defense minister is so thirsty for power and has taken the country’s affairs into his hand in such a bold and aggressive manner that many believe he is the heir apparent and would topple the Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Nayef, in one way or another soon.
Addressing a ceremony in Tehran on Wednesday, General Soleimani said the Saudi prince “is so impatient that he might kill his own father, the king”.
Mohammed bin Salman’s ascension has been surrounded by a great deal of palace intrigue, including the grumbling protestations of royals angry about the prince skipping the lines of succession.
Saudi Sources revealed in late June that Saudi Arabia’s young deputy crown prince is being advised by the UAE on how he can win backing from the US and ascend to the throne by the end of the year.
Two “well-placed Saudi sources” have said that de facto UAE ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan is advising Mohammed on a two-pronged strategy to become Washington’s preferred choice as the next Saudi ruler.
The first Saudi source said bin Zayed has told bin Salman that he must “end the rule of Wahhabism” if he wants to be accepted by the Americans.
Wahhabism is the radical ideology dominating Saudi Arabia which has inspired Takfiri groups such as ISIL and al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front to wreak havoc in the Middle East.
Bin Zayed has also told bin Salman that he must open a “strong channel of communication” with Israel if he is to be Washington’s preferred candidate to be king.
The second Saudi source reportedly said bin Salman is willing to win the backing of Washington after telling close associates recently that he would complete the mission of becoming king before the end of the year.
The 30-year-old bin Salman, who also serves as the Saudi defense minister, has been granted increasing power since he was named the third in line to the throne last April.
He is heading up the country’s economic reforms plan, the kingdom’s policy towards Syria and its deadly aggression against Yemen.
The young prince’s meteoric rise, however, has sparked tensions within the Saudi royal family.
According to the report, bin Salman would seek to fundamentally change the role of religion in the kingdom on bin Zayed’s advice.
One of the two Saudi sources said that bin Salman plans to cancel the Council of Senior Scholars, which is the kingdom’s highest religious body, and stop all activities that serve Wahhabism.
“The aim will be for bin Salman to be hailed as a hero by the press, Congress, and academics, so that the US administration is forced to follow.”
Such a plan is highly risky given the influence of religious bodies in the kingdom and could lead to a serious showdown.
A Saudi source told Middle-East Eye on June 20 that bin Salman had secretly carved out a plan to severely curb the influence of Wahhabism, the strict interpretation of Islam followed in Saudi Arabia, by arresting clerics and shutting down institutions.
A Saudi expert who asked not to be identified told NBC that Riyadh was at such a critical juncture that either “it’s bin Salman or it’s ISIL group.”
The second strategy advised by bin Zayed to win Washington’s backing was developing close relations with Israel.
Israel has covert ties with Arab states despite their claims that they would normalize relations with Tel Aviv only when it reaches a deal with the Palestinians.
In April, the Jerusalem Post wrote that “rather than being isolated, Israel is being incorporated into the Saudi-led orbit,” citing the opening of a mission in Abu Dhabi and increasing contacts in the Persian Gulf States.
One of the Saudi sources said Washington could be swayed into supporting bin Salman’s bid to be king if he could achieve good communication with Israel, even if the Americans like their long-time ally bin Nayef.
Saudi whistleblower Mujtahid, who is believed to be a member of or have a well-connected source in the royal family, revealed in May that US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned the Saudi officials that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef is Washington’s redline.
“In his recent meeting with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Muhammad bin Salman, John Kerry has emphasized that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayif is the US redline,” Mujtahid wrote in a tweets in May.
Elsewhere, he referred to the intimate relations between UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and Muhammad bin Salman, and said, “These ties will affect Saudi Arabia’s social, economic, security, military and foreign policy.”
Bin Nayef may be the first in line to throne but his quietness, and bin Salman’s prominence, has led many to conclude the experienced 56-year-old’s power is waning.
During bin Salman’s recent visit to the US, where he met President Barack Obama, a report emerged that American intelligence officers believed the current Saudi ruler King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef suffer from ill health.
“We’ve put a lot of markers down on Mohammed bin Nayef. It’s the smart move to do the same with bin Salman. It’s an opportunity to get to know him,” Bruce Riedel, an ex-national intelligence officer and a member of Obama’s transition team, said.
The visit to the US by Saudi Arabia’s young deputy crown prince raised speculation that his superiors have been seriously ill and being pushed out of the kingdom’s political scene.
Bruce Riedel, a former national intelligence officer and a member of US President Barack Obama’s transition team, told NBC News that 30-year-old bin Salman was visiting the US because his father King Salman and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, second in line to the throne, are both seriously ill.
“We’ve put a lot of markers down on Mohammed bin Nayef. It’s the smart move to do the same with bin Salman. It’s an opportunity to get to know him,” Riedel said.
Bin Nayef, bin Salman’s cousin, has long been seen as a steady pair of hands and, unlike some vying for power in the kingdom, not a long-term threat because he has no children of his own.
He has also traditionally been viewed as the US favorite and has cooperated closely with Washington on security and counter-terrorism issues for years, but he has increasingly kept a low profile, with speculation running rife about why.
A well-informed Saudi source told Middle East Eye on June 20 that 56-year-old bin Nayef was physically fine and recently went on a hunting trip to Algeria.
Instead, the source said, bin Salman’s trip was “designed to make him US’s number one Saudi ally and to push bin Nayef out of the scene”.
Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy also said that bin Salman is “notionally number three in the hierarchy, but effectively he’s number one” because the 80-year-old king prefers that his son take over the kingdom.
A Bahraini source also said that the trip was probably part of a longer-term plan to bolster the young prince’s international reputation and that it is widely believed he will be made crown prince and heir apparent in the not too distant future.
Bin Salman has been awarded a staggering amount of power since he was named deputy crown prince last April. He also serves as the defense minister, heading up the kingdom’s war in Yemen and Syria policy, and is pushing through ambitious economic reforms that aim to privatize part of the national oil giant Aramco and lessen Riyadh’s dependence on oil.
By official accounts, his Washington trip was a feat, despite eyebrows being raised about bin Salman meeting with Obama, a rare honor usually reserved for heads of state.
Earlier in June this year, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud health state drastically deteriorated with visitors barred from seeing the ageing monarch, an informed source said.
Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman issued orders to the Saudi court banning any manner of meeting with the king due to his “brain damage”, Alwaqt reported on June 2.
The Palestinian Manar online newspaper also on the same day quoted an informed saying that the denial of visiting rights encompasses all members of the royal family and foreign dignitaries.
The source noted that foreign embassies, especially that of the US, are diligently tracking Salman’s health and reporting back to their countries.
Over the recent months King Salman has been trying to disguise a teleprompter he uses to be able to make coherent sentences when holding talks with foreign dignitaries
Foreign leaders visiting the Saudi regime ruler have noticed that there is a large flower display positioned just in front of where the 80-year-old monarch sits. On closer investigation, the visitors realized that the purpose of the flowers is to conceal a computer which acts as a teleprompter, enabling the King to appear capable of carrying on a coherent conversation about important issues.
Sources close to the Saudi monarchy say the 80 year old King Salman is suffering from dementia, a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Reports say the octogenarian monarch suffers from periodic blackouts and inability to speak.
The failing health of the Saudi monarch has also led to intense rivalry between Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and King Salman’s son, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. This rivalry has led to an increasingly weird and self-destructive nature of present-day Saudi foreign policy that suddenly shifted from cautious use of Saudi Arabia’s vast oil wealth to further its aims to a militarized and confrontational pursuit of foreign policy objectives.
There has been mounting discontent at the Saudi king’s decisions, including his controversial appointments, support for Takfiri terrorists in Syria and Iraq, the brutal and costly war against impoverished Yemen, and the execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
Unsurprisingly, Prince Salman’s meteoric rise has caused ripples, and has antagonized some other members of the vast royal House of Saud who resent being shunted aside by the younger generation.
Analytical websites had predicted early this year that Muhammad bin Salman would use the kingdom’s army which is under his control to topple Muhammad bin Nayef to prevent his ascending to the throne.
“That Muhammad bin Salman controls the Saudi army is a valuable advantage for him because in case Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef becomes a king, Muhammad bin Salman can use the army to topple him,” the Russian-language ‘Landscape of the New East’ wrote.
The Russian analytical website also reiterated that Saudi Arabia would eventually be disintegrated as a result of an implosion and its abundant oil reserves will fail to help the country’s rulers to prevent this collapse.
It noted that Muhammad bin Salman has grown more active and in a sense he has become a spokesman of the Riyadh government despite the fact that Muhammad bin Nayef is the crown prince and, hence should be the one who talks on behalf of the ailing King.
On January 19, a prominent Saudi media activist revealed that the Crown Prince, Bin Nayef, had held secret talks with the country’s tribal leaders to heighten internal conflicts and prevent empowerment of Muhammad bin Salman.
“After news reports said that the Saudi king has decided to leave the power to his son, the Saudi crown prince has held some meetings with the tribal leaders to destabilize domestic conditions in Saudi Arabia,” the activist who called for anonymity for security reasons told FNA.
Noting that the details of these meetings were not known, he said Muhammad bin Nayef saw himself entitled to the throne, and he, thus, sought to spark internal problems and insecurity with the help of certain tribes to stir crisis and prevent the deputy crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, from ascending to the throne.
Reports in August 2015 had informed that the Saudi crown prince had enhanced security arrangements for fear of assassination plots of rival princes in the royal family.
“Muhammad bin Nayef has changed the venues of his daily tasks, procedures and itinerary of his visits and appointments, his team of bodyguards and their methods to decrease the danger to minimum levels,” Mujtahid wrote in his tweets at the time.
Noting that the Saudi crown prince used helicopter flights for most of his visits to different places, he said, “Tens of armed vehicles and over 80 security forces always accompany him during his visits.”
Mujtahid said that Muhammad bin Nayef rarely stayed in his palaces and used his father’s palace on an island in the Red Sea behind fortified security measures and large numbers of security forces there.
“He also spends a lot of time to eavesdrop the phone calls of the ruling family members,” the Saudi activist revealed.
In April 2015, King Salman relieved Muqrin of his duties as crown prince and appointed his nephew, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, as the new heir apparent.
It is the first time that a grandson of the founder of the country (Ibn Saud), rather than a son, has been appointed crown prince.
Muhammad bin Nayef, 55, the grandson of the founder of Saudi Arabia, was appointed as crown prince and also minister of interior.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was also replaced by Saudi Ambassador to Washington Adel al-Jubair.
The changes signaled a major shift at the top of the ruling Al Saud family away from princes chosen by the late King Abdullah, who died in January 2015, and towards those close to the new monarch.