Beirut – Saudi Arabia’s dramatic moves to counter Iran in the region appear to have backfired, significantly ratcheting up regional tensions and setting off a spiral of reactions and anger that seem to have caught the kingdom off guard.
Now it’s trying to walk back its escalations in Lebanon and Yemen.
On Monday, the kingdom announced that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen would begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world’s poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.
The move came just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who shocked the nation by announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital on Nov. 4, gave an interview in which he backed off his strident condemnation of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah, saying he would return to the country within days to seek a settlement with the Shiite militants, his rivals in his coalition government.
The two developments suggest that Saudi Arabia’s bullish young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, may be trying to pedal back from the abyss of a severe regional escalation.
“This represents de-escalation by the Saudis,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “The general trend is that the Saudis are going to back off and this is largely because of the unexpected extent of international pressure, and not least of all U.S. pressure.”
Mohammed bin Salman, widely known by his initials, MBS, 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.
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.
Saudi partners in the Gulf and the Trump administration rushed to defend the kingdom publicly after a rebel Houthi missile was fired at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, from Yemen last week. A top U.S. military official also backed Saudi claims that the missile was manufactured by Iran.
However, Saudi Arabia’s move to tighten an already devastating blockade on Yemen in response to the missile was roundly criticized by aid groups, humanitarian workers and the United Nations.
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