What the Saudi Purge Means for the Kingdom, and America

This past weekend, Riyadh announced the arrest of dozens of high-ranking officials and prominent businessmen, including eleven princes—all of whom are cousins of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now second in power only to his father, King Salman. Elliott Abrams connects the move to a generational shift: like every Saudi monarch since 1953, Salman is a son of the kingdom’s founder ibn Saud; after Salman’s death, the crown will pass, for the first time, to Mohammed, one of ibn Saud’s grandsons. Abrams sees in the arrests an attempt to centralize powers that are now distributed over hundreds of royal cousins, and considers the implications.

Is this centralization of power a good thing for the United States, or even for Saudi Arabia? That question will best be answered retrospectively, in about a decade. What’s clear now, though, is that Crown Prince Mohammed has announced ambitious economic and social changes, from allowing women to drive and mix with men in sports stadiums, to selling off a part of the kingdom’s key asset, the Aramco oil company, to challenging the ideology of the Wahhabi clerics. He appears to believe that such moves require sheer power, both to overcome resistance and to move the kingdom’s poorly educated and youthful population (roughly half are under the age of twenty-five) of 33 million into the 21st century.

Crown Prince Mohammed has spoken of a more modern Saudi Arabia, at least when it comes to the role of religion and the rights of women. Last month he called for “a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions.” But political liberalization is not in the cards. Indeed, a serious crackdown has been under way for the last two years, including lengthy prison terms for tweets that criticized the Saudi authorities. The message from the palace is clear: get on board or pay the price. That message applies not only to commoners, but to the entire royal family.

Few were in doubt about Crown Prince Mohammed’s ambition. Now there will be equal certainty about his determination.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Elliott Abrams, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy