The reverse midas touch of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is turning the Middle East to dust


Kudos to Germany’s spooks. Back in December 2015, the German foreign intelligence agency, BND, distributed a one-and-a-half-page memo to various media outlets titled: “Saudi Arabia — Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation.” The document was pretty astonishing, both in its undiplomatic bluntness and remarkable prescience.

“The current cautious diplomatic stance of senior members of the Saudi royal family will be replaced by an impulsive intervention policy,” the memo warned, focusing on the role of Mohammed bin Salman, who had been appointed as deputy crown prince and defense minister at the age of 30 earlier that year.

Both MBS, as he has come to be known, and his elderly father King Salman, the BND analysts wrote, want Saudi Arabia to be seen as “the leader of the Arab world” with a foreign policy built on “a strong military component.” Yet the memo also pointed out that the consolidation of so much power in a single young prince’s hands “harbors a latent risk that in seeking to establish himself in the line of succession in his father’s lifetime, he may overreach,” adding: “Relations with friendly and above all allied countries in the region could be overstretched.”

And so it has come to pass. In fact, despite being repudiated at the time by a German government more concerned about diplomatic and commercial relations with Riyadh, the BND warning turned out to be eerily prophetic.

Consider recent events in the Gulf. Can you get more “impulsive” than rounding up 11 fellow princes, including one of the world’s richest men and the commander of the national guard, and holding them at the Ritz Carlton on charges of corruption? Especially since MBS, who ordered the arrests only a few hours after his father set up an anti-corruption committee and put him in charge of it, isn’t exactly a paragon of probity and transparency himself. Where, for example, did the crown prince find more than $500 million to spend on a luxury yacht while vacationing in the south of France last year?

Is it anything other than “interventionist” to force the resignation of the prime minister of Lebanon on a visit to your country and then put him under a form of house arrest (though the hapless Saad Hariri, a long-standing client of Riyadh, publicly claims otherwise and says he is heading back to Beirut this week)? Or to also detain the president of Yemen? According to an investigation by the Associated Press, “Saudi Arabia has barred Yemen’s president, along with his sons, ministers and military officials, from returning home for months.”

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