Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman named prime minister

Kingdom’s de facto ruler is seen as advocate of closer ties to Israel, though king reportedly less keen

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Al Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 24, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at Al Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 24, 2019. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince has been named prime minister, a post traditionally held by the king, in a government shuffle announced Tuesday night.

Mohammed bin Salman, who has been the kingdom’s de facto ruler for several years, was previously serving as deputy prime minister under King Salman as well as defense minister.

He is being replaced as defense minister by his younger brother, Khalid bin Salman, who was previously deputy defense minister.

The heads of other critical ministries, including interior, foreign and energy, remained in place, according to a royal decree from King Salman published by the official Saudi Press Agency.

Prince Mohammed, who turned 37 last month, has been first in line to succeed his father as king since 2017.

He became defense minister in 2015, a key step in a swift consolidation of power that saw him take the lead on major portfolios.

Saudi King Salman attends the G20 Leaders’ Summit via videoconference at the royal palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 30, 2021. (Bandar Aljaloud/ Saudi Royal Palace via AP)

Saudi Arabia has for years sought to quell speculation over the health of 86-year-old King Salman, who has ruled the world’s top oil exporter since 2015.

In 2017, it dismissed reports and mounting speculation that the king was planning to abdicate in favor of Prince Mohammed.

King Salman has been hospitalized twice so far this year, most recently a one-week stay in May that involved tests including a colonoscopy, according to state media reports.

Bin Salman is seen as a leading force behind the development of reported clandestine ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as tentative, limited steps toward normalizing relations.

In 2020 he was reported to have met then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a secretive meeting in Saudi Arabia. Unnamed Israeli officials told Israeli media then that the king was an obstacle to normalization.

In March of this year, bin Salman said: “We don’t look at Israel as an enemy, we look to them as a potential ally, with many interests that we can pursue together.”

“But we have to solve some issues before we get to that,” he added.

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