Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman just executed a sweeping—and risky—purge of his potential political adversaries. The Trump Administration supports the sweeping changes.
What has happened in Saudi Arabia over the past couple of days, as perplexing as it may appear, is momentous.
However, equally significant are the events that preceded and followed the recent developments - such as White House senior aide Jared Kushner's unannounced trip to the ultraconservative kingdom and U.S. President Donald Trump's prompt support of the Saudi royal purge.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, is reportedly in the midst of an anti-corruption drive that resulted, over the past week, in the arrest of 11 princes, four ministers and dozens of businessmen.
In addition, as the purge was underway, a helicopter, carrying Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, the deputy governor of Asir province, crashed near Saudi Arabia's border with Yemen. The cause of the crash is still unknown.
Although it has been called a part of a large-scale anti-corruption crackdown, the Saudi purge is widely believed to be an attempt by the 32-year-old Saudi crown prince to consolidate his power in the kingdom.
Perhaps, it is. But it is important to mention here that MBS' power was more or less already consolidated earlier in June when he was suddenly - and unorthodoxly - announced as Saudi King Salman's direct heir to the throne.
So, what is the reason behind the recent wave of royal arrests? And why does Trump seem to be so happy about it?
Among those arrested were billionaire investor Alwaleed bin Talal, who is one of the world’s most prominent businessmen. He runs Kingdom Holdings and owns large stakes in companies like Twitter and News Corp. He is also one of the most outspoken critics of Trump.
MBS, on the other hand, enjoys friendly relations with the Trump administration. Trump made his first foreign trip, as president, to Saudi Arabia in May. During that visit, Riyadh gave Trump 83 separate gifts.
In addition, Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior aide, has reportedly become a close ally of MBS.
Just days before the royal crackdown was launched, Kushner, also known as America's own "prince," made a secret, personal, trip to Saudi Arabia to meet MBS.
"The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy," wrote The Washington Post's David Ignatius of their hush-hush meeting.
Meanwhile, just as the Saudi royal purge was about to begin, Trump, in a tweet, tried to convince the oil-rich kingdom to list the first offering of shares in Aramco - the state oil giant - on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq.
While personal business benefits to the Trump administration from MBS' royal crackdown largely remains a theory, a more tangible, and pressing, outcome would be the crown prince's use of his newfound consolidated authority to engage in a full-blown war with Iran by intensifying military action in Yemen against suspected Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
As the purge was underway, a ballistic missile allegedly fired from Yemen was intercepted near Riyadh. Saudi military claimed the attack had been ordered by Iran.
"We see this as an act of war,” the Saudi foreign minister, Adel Jubair, said during an interview on CNN. “Iran cannot lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to take steps.”
MBS' aggressive stance toward Iran also appears to have formed the basis for an increasingly close relationship with President Trump.
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