Saudi Arabia has been at the center of a firestorm of events during the past month. These developments have raised acute questions about the nature of Saudi behavior. Alarmists have suggested a “regional war” was imminent, while other observers were concerned that the Saudi crown prince was needlessly destabilizing the kingdom to centralize power. Bridging these arguments, Dov Zakheim noted that the consensus in Washington earlier in the month was that 32-year old Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) was consolidating his domestic power in order to be in a stronger position to confront Iran.
On November 4, the crown prince authorized a wave of anti-corruption arrests of senior Saudi princes that sent shockwaves through the kingdom. On the same day, he met Lebanese Prime Minister Saʿd Hariri, who then abruptly announced his resignation as head of the Lebanese government. The reason Hariri gave during his televised address was Iran’s interference in Lebanon. Later that evening, Houthi rebels in Yemen, against whom the Saudis have waged a brutal war since April 2015, fired a missile at King Khalid International Airport, 20 kilometers north of Riyadh.The Saudis accused Iran of being behind the missile attack, which Iran denied, and the incident led to an escalating war of words between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In what many took as a Saudi effort to avoid another full-blown crisis, Hariri then returned to Lebanon and announced he was suspending his resignation.