Large shakeup at King Salman’s Saudi Arabia

The death of Saudi Arabia King Abdullah finally coincided with the possible end of the oil prices’ bearish trend started in June 2014 that reached its lowest at $43.56 a barrel (WTI) on January 29, 2015. King Salman had publicly endorsed his predecessor Abdullah’s stance of not cutting oil production. However the dramatic decrease in state budget funds because of the fall in oil prices and growing disagreement among Saudi elites about how to reconcile Saudi Arabia’s financial and foreign policy interests as regards oil prices and Iran may have prompted Salman’s most significant political moves since his crowning.

Two facts drew most of our attention. First, Khalid A. Al-Falih replaced Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi as chairman of Saudi Arabian Oil Co. (Aramco), the world’s biggest crude exporter. Falih has entered the cabinet too as Heath Minister, a move interpreted as a first step of him taking over the Oil Ministry shortly. Second and most surprising has been the replacement of the King’s half-brother and former chief of the Saudi Intelligence Agency (SIA) Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud by the King’s nephew and Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef as Crown Prince.

So far, King Salman’s decisions have been widely welcomed among Saudi elites, seeing here the start of a new era with the appointment of a younger generation with the choice of Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman – the King’s son – as Deputy Crown Prince and second in line for the throne, and the military air strikes of operation Decisive Storm in Yemen – for which Mohammed helped to set up the military coalition – that’s been perceived by the Saudis as a firststopping pointagainst Iran’s regional extension.

Analysts noted these developments occurred as Saudi security forces were arresting 93 suspected terrorists with alleged ties to ISIS, including two accused of having planned a car bomb plot against the US embassy in Riyadh. More unnoticed but quite significant in such context, terrorist threats against the Kingdom’s oil facilities, particularly Aramco’s, strengthened recently. If you assemble the facts together, a more aggressive double action against both ISIS and Iran could now be a clearer guiding principle of a renewed post-Abdullah Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. Another way to reconnect with the USA whose rapprochement with Iran has been fueling concern and misunderstanding within Saudi Arabia’s power circles.