Saudi Arabia faces new political woes

Justin Marinelli, Senior Writer

The King of Saudi Arabia is dead. The new king is suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia and is probably not long for this world. The crown prince, his half-brother, is cogent and is hopefully running the show from behind the throne, but the line of succession is murky, and the sons of Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz, the only ones in the history of the modern Saudi state who have been allowed to take the throne, are dwindling in number. All of this is within the context of an unstable region with rapidly destabilizing countries to both the north and the south. The soap opera practically writes itself for this real-life House Lannister.

The House of Saud, the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, is one of the longest-lasting dynasties in the Middle East. There are a few reasons for this. While there are a lot of people in the House of Saud who probably shouldn’t be running anything, there are also some very clever people who have a very good handle on how to stay alive and keep their place at the top of the heap. What makes the House of Saud really dangerous is how efficient they are at making sure that such people end up running the show.

The second factor is that the House of Saud made the right friends, entangling themselves with the British in the early 20th century and hopping into bed with the United States later on. The loyalty of the former was bought with blood, the loyalty of the latter with oil. Let it never be said that the Saudis do not know how to leverage their liquid assets.

That being said, they are in a dangerous position right now. Their biggest rival, Iran, has been stringing together a series of impressive tactical victories. Iran is dancing around the United States and playing us like a fiddle in the nuclear negotiations. The bits of Iraq that are not under the control of ISIS are being drawn closer to the Iranian orbit, and the Houthis in Yemen are so clearly Iranian proxies it’s almost embarrassing to pretend otherwise. Throw in the possibility of a large-scale attack by ISIS (a worry that has surely crossed Saudi minds after a recent ISIS suicide bombing killed a major Saudi general), and the House of Saud is in the hot seat right now.

Last week I made some predictions for this year, mostly focused on Europe. I’ll hold off this week, mostly because I haven’t quite put all the pieces together as to how the game will play out. What I will say is that I will be very surprised if oil prices don’t start to rise in the second half of this year. The Saudis don’t buy any more U.S. weaponry or hold any joint military exercises, and we don’t see ISIS test Saudi defenses in one way or another.

As I stated in my last piece, this is going to be a year of fragments and fractures, and the water temperature in the Middle East is rising. The main driver of potential global conflict this year is Eastern Europe, but the Middle East is not far behind and we live in interesting times indeed.

 

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