The war isn’t going well and the Crown Prince is looking for a way out of his self-made problems.
Something is rotten in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Prince Mohammad bin Salman, also known as MbS, was once the promising young face of the Arab monarchy. Now he’s racking up foreign-policy defeats abroad—and facing disturbing murmurs at home.
Over the weekend, Houthi rebels took down a Saudi-mechanized column along the border with Yemen, capturing hundreds of soldiers. Then, the mysterious murder of a royal bodyguard set off alarm bells inside the kingdom.
With his problems closing in, the crown prince may try one last gambit: a pivot from Washington to Tehran. But it’s risky, and he doesn’t have much room to maneuver.
“Various Saudis I’ve spoken to raise the possibility that what is happening could be at the hands of elements inside the Saudi government that want to embarrass MbS because they see him as putting Saudi Arabia in a corner,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute. “If you were a Saudi, and you were concerned about the future of your country, I don’t think it’s difficult to draw the conclusion that MbS is your first obstacle.”
MbS began his reign with an ambitious foreign policy. He pushed President Donald Trump to escalate against Iran, ramped up the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and launched a dramatic blockade against his rivals in Qatar. Now, his policies are blowing up in his face.
On September 14, drones and missiles destroyed a desulphurization plant in Abqaiq, knocking out half of Saudi oil exports. But last weekend showed that the worst may be yet to come.
The weekend of disasters began with an explosive claim by the Houthis, an Iranian-backed rebel army that has vexed the Saudi-backed government in Yemen. On a Houthi-run TV channel, Houthi Brig. Gen. Yahya Saeed announced the defeat of three Saudi brigades in a cross-border raid near the Saudi city of Najran.
It was impossible to verify whether three brigades—equal to thousands of soldiers—were actually routed, or where the battle took place. And most of the prisoners were dressed in civilian clothes.