Report claims Saudi king, 81, to hand reins to son next week

Analysts believe moves by Mohammed bin Salman to consolidate power may have come ahead of ascension to throne, with Israel-backed war against Hezbollah in the works

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Lebanon's Christian Maronite patriarch on November 14, 2017, in Riyadh. (AFP/ Fayez Nureldine)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Lebanon's Christian Maronite patriarch on November 14, 2017, in Riyadh. (AFP/ Fayez Nureldine)

An unconfirmed report in the British press Thursday claimed that Saudi King Salman plans to abdicate the throne and hand power to his son next week.

The move would cap a major shakeup in Riyadh as the royal family has attempted to consolidate power both within the kingdom and in the region in the last several weeks, arresting princes and senior government officials, and seemingly engineering the resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister as a blow to Iran.

The report in the Daily Mail tabloid, based on a single source described as “close to the royal family,” could not be independently confirmed. There was no immediate reaction from Riyadh.

Saudi’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud waits for Lebanon’s Christian Maronite patriarch prior to their meeting on November 14, 2017, in Riyadh. (AFP/Fayez Nureldine)

According to the Mail, Salman, 81, would hand the reins to his son Mohammed Bin Salman, or MBS, who is currently the crown prince and defense minister. He would retain a titular role as a leading figurehead, but would not lead the country.

US analysts also believe a transition of power may be in the works, the New York Times reported this week.

Salman, who some believe may be suffering from dementia, took the throne in 2015 following the death of his brother Abdullah.

He named Mohammed crown prince in a surprise move in June,  removing nephew Mohammed bin Nayef in what was seen as a major shift.

Prince Mohammed has garnered a reputation for being decisive, as well as impulsive.

At just 32 years old and with little experience in government, he has risen to power in just three years to oversee all major aspects of politics, security and the economy in Saudi Arabia. As defense minister, he is in charge of the Saudi-led war in Yemen, where troops have faced off against Iranian backed Houthi rebels, and is seen as taking a hard-line against Tehran.

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with then Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman during a bilateral meeting, Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

He also appears to have the support of President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner, who visited the Saudi capital earlier this month.

Mohammed was also behind the recent arrest of 11 princes and some 200 other officials and business-people as part of a corruption investigation.

US analysts believe the move may have been an attempt to push out rivals ahead of his father stepping down, the New York Times reported. 

According to the Daily Mail report, the ascendancy of Mohammed would precede a major military push by Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah in Lebanon, with Israel’s backing.

“MBS’s plan is to start the fire in Lebanon, but he’s hoping to count on Israeli military backing. He has already promised Israel billions of dollars in direct financial aid if they agree,” the paper’s source claimed.

While Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official ties, both countries are seen as united against Iran, which sponsors Hezbollah. Earlier on Thursday, IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot gave his first ever interview to an Arabic media outlet, telling the Saudi site Elaph that he would be willing to share intelligence on Iran.

However, analysts have noted Israeli reluctance to launch a war against Hezbollah on the Saudis’ behalf, given the devastating effects the terror group’s missiles would wreak on the Israeli home front.

AP contributed to this report.


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