While according to the official narrative, the Saudi power transition on Wednesday, when King Salman bin Abdulaziz announced his decision to replace Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz with his own son, Mohammed bin Salman, went smooth and by the numbers, what took place behind the scenes is more interesting.
Here, events were decidedly more interesting, because as Fars News reports (so take it with a grain of salt), after the decision was announced, the Israeli air force sent 18 of its fighter jets, including F16-I, F15-CD and F16-CD, along with two Gulfstream aircraft, two tanker airplanes and two C130 planes, special for electronic warfare, to Saudi Arabia at the demand of the new crown prince bin Salman to block his cousin (bin Nayef)'s possible measures.
On the surface, such close ties between the existing Saudi regime and Israel would appear a stretch, although it is far more plausible after this week's WSJ report that when it comes to the Saudi proxy war, Israel and Saudi Arabia had been alligned from the onset of the Syrian conflict, with Israel secretly supplying Syrian rebels near its border with cash as well as food, fuel and medical supplies for years, "a secret engagement in the enemy country’s civil war aimed at carving out a buffer zone populated by friendly forces."
If true, the Fars report would be rather striking because, in addition to other geopolitical implications, Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations.
According to the Times of Israel, "a spokesperson for the IDF said the army does not comment on foreign media reports. An Israeli military insider ridiculed the report as absurd."
As a reminder, just days ago, the Saudi king stripped Nayef - who was against Saudi involvement in the Yemen civil war - of his powers overseeing criminal investigations and designated a new public prosecution office to function directly under the king’s authority. In a similar move back in 2015, the Saudi king had appointed his nephew, then deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef as the heir to the throne after removing his own half-brother Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud from the position. His replacement as the new Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, 31, was also named deputy prime minister, and shall maintain his post as defense minister. He has been described as the real power behind his father’s throne.
The power struggle inside the House of Saud came to light earlier this year when the Saudi king began to overhaul the government and offered positions of influence to a number of family members. In two royal decrees in April, the Saudi king named two of his other sons, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and Prince Khaled bin Salman, as state minister for energy affairs and ambassador to the United States, respectively.
None of this is new, but where Fars provides new details is that in late April, Mohammad bin Salman "literally bribed the new US administration by paying $56m to Donald Trump." There is no official confirmation of this allegation. Fars further adds that "bin Salman was paying off the US to buy its support for finding a grip over the crown."
"Since Uncle Sam's satisfaction is the first step for the Saudi princes to get on the crown, paying off Washington seems to be a taken-for-granted fact," Rami Khalil, a reporter of Naba' news website affiliated to the Saudi dissidents wrote.
He added that since the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) is like a sword over the head of the al-Saud, they have no way out but to bribe the US, noting that the Yemen quagmire is also another reason for Riyadh to seek Washington's support.
Also, a prominent Yemeni analyst said earlier this month that the US has been paid several trillion dollars by Saudi Arabia to protect its crown, adding that Riyadh has recently bribed Washington's support for the Yemen war with $200bln.
"Washington has asked for more money to defend the Saudi regime and Riyadh has recently paid $200bln to the US for the costs of its support for the war in Yemen," Saleh al-Qarshi told Fars News Agency. "This is apart from the huge amounts of money that Saudi Arabia pays to the US treasury for protecting its crown," he added. According to al-Qarshi, "former Saudi Intelligence Chief Turki al-Feisal revealed last year that his country has bought US treasury bonds to help the US economy."
Meanwhile, as defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman has faced strong international criticism for the bloody military campaign he launched against neighboring Yemen in 2015 amid his rivalry with bin Nayef, the then powerful interior minister. Saudi Arabia has been striking Yemen since March 2015 to restore power to fugitive president Mansour Hadi, a close ally of Riyadh. The Saudi-led war has so far killed at least 14,000 Yemenis, including hundreds of women and children.
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It was not immediately clear if, assuming the Fars report is accurate, Israeli forces are still located in Saudi Arabia, or if the fears of a coup have since dissipated.
Separately, the Times of Israel reports that in a recent television interview aired in May on Saudi TV, bin Salman delivered a strong warning to Iran and ruled out any dialogue with officials there. Framing the tensions with Iran in sectarian terms, he said it is Iran’s goal “to control the Islamic world” and to spread its Shiite doctrine.
“We know we are a main target of Iran,” the prince said, warning that he “will work so that it becomes a battle for them in Iran and not in Saudi Arabia.”
For its part, Iran’s state TV, when it isn’t claiming that bin Salman is propped up by Israel or the US, described the appointment of bin Salman this week as a “soft coup in Saudi Arabia.”
Credibility of the Fars report aside, as Petromatrix' Olivier Jakob reported yesterday, the shocking Saudi shakeup means it is "Not A Question Of If But When New Escalation With Iran Starts."
Finally keep in mind that with Saudi Arabia desperate to raise the price of oil, and with every other measure failing, there is always one dependable fall back when all else fails: war.