A regime-linked Iranian news agency claimed Thursday that Israel has sent fighter jets to Saudi Arabia to help the new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stave off a possible coup by ousted ex-crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
The startling claim — which was not sourced, not even anonymously, came in an article in the semi-official Fars News Agency. The piece, dramatically headlined “18 Israeli Fighter Jets Deployed in S. Arabia to Prevent Coup,” also makes other rather dramatic assertions, including that bin Salman bribed US President Donald Trump to the tune of $56 million, and that Riyadh has paid the US “several trillion dollars… to protect its crown.”
The Israeli squadron now allegedly parked in Saudi territory includes 18 combat jets, according to Fars, among them “F16I, F15CD and F16CD, along with two Gulfstream aircraft, two tanker airplanes and two C130 planes, special for electronic warfare.” The planes landed Thursday, Fars said.
The alleged move was said to have been a “demand” of Mohammed bin Salman “to block his cousin (bin Nayef)’s possible measures.”
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations.
A spokesperson for the IDF said the army does not comment on foreign media reports. An Israeli military insider ridiculed the report as absurd.
The article also cites an unspecified “media source” saying that “Mohammad bin Salman has literally bribed the new US administration by paying $56m to Donald Trump.” And, it claims, “a prominent” — though unnamed — “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.”
On Wednesday, the Saudi government announced that bin Salman, 31, who already controlled the kingdom’s defense policy and was overseeing a massive internal economic overhaul with the backing of his father King Salman, would be promoted to crown prince at the expense of bin Nayef.
The sudden appointment placed him as first in line to the throne, cementing his position as the driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s major policy moves and seemingly charting Saudi policy for the coming decades.
The Fars article reflects rising tensions between arch-rivals Tehran and Riyadh, who are on opposite sides of the Sunni-Shiite split and back opposing sides in wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the region.
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.”
AP contributed to this report.