RFL/RE – In a rare televised interview, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince has said there is no possibility that he would open a dialogue with rival Iran because of its Shi’ite ambitions “to control the Islamic world.”
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman
“How can I come to an understanding with someone, or a regime, that has an anchoring belief built on an extremist ideology?” Muhammad bin Salman said in an interview aired on multiple Saudi TV channels on May 2.
“What are the interests between us? How can I come to an understanding with this?” he asked.
The 31-year-old prince was named an eventual heir to the throne in 2015 by his father, King Salman, and is also Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, overseeing the war in Yemen against a rebel group aligned with Iran.
In ruling out rapprochement with Iran, he asserted it was Tehran’s goal “to control the Islamic world” and to spread its Shi’ite doctrine in preparation for the arrival of a revered imam named Mohammad al-Mahdi.
Shi’ite Muslims believe Mahdi, the 12th and last Shi’ite imam who went into hiding 1,000 years ago, will return to establish global Islamic rule before the end of the world.
Iranians believe that “the Imam Mahdi will come and they must prepare the fertile environment for [his] arrival…and they must control the Muslim world,” the prince said.
“We know that the aim of the Iranian regime is to reach the focal point of Muslims [Mecca], and we will not wait until the fight is inside Saudi Arabia. We will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”
Ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been strained since Iran’s 1979 revolution, with each side competing to be the more powerful force in the Muslim world.
The rivalry has played out in proxy wars across the Middle East. Besides backing opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen, they support political rivals in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Iraq.
Tensions escalated last year after Saudi Arabia’s execution of a local Shi’ite cleric sparked the ransacking of the Saudi Embassy in Iran by protesters. The two countries severed diplomatic and trade ties.
On Yemen, the prince defended the kingdom’s decision to go to war there, which is costing Saudi Arabia tens of millions of dollars a day, according to some estimates.
The conflict has worsened an already dire humanitarian crisis verging on mass starvation in Yemen and killed thousands of civilians, most of whom were the victims of Saudi-led coalition air strikes.
Experts say the two-year war has reached a stalemate. Saudi Arabia and its allies have not been able to dislodge the Iranian-allied rebels, known as Huthis, from the capital of Sanaa and other major cities.
When asked about this, Prince Muhammad said the Huthis could be uprooted “in a matter of days.” But, he said, Saudi Arabia had not sent ground troops to retake the capital and other major cities because it would lead to thousands of deaths among Saudi soldiers and Yemeni civilians.
“Time is on our side. Patience is on our side,” he said, and the better choice is to exhaust the other side by choking off their supplies.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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The emergence of ISIS has generated a new critical interest in the Wahhabi movement. Yet Wahhabism has been generating controversy since it first emerged in Arabia in the 18th century. Muslim critics have dismissed this conservative interpretation of Islam that is the official creed of Saudi Arabia as an unorthodox innovation that manipulated a suggestible people to gain political influence. David Commins’ book questions this assumption. He examines the debate on the nature of Wahhabism, and offers original findings on its ascendance in Saudi Arabia and spread throughout other parts of the Muslim world such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. He also assesses the challenge that radical militants within Saudi Arabia pose to the region, as well as highlighting the new developments in Wahhabism in recent years, most notably its emergence in the radical Islamist movement ISIS.