Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an interview published Monday expressed support for President Trump’s Middle East agenda, criticized the JCPOA, and stated that Israel has a right to exist.
“I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation,” he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. “I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”
MBS admitted that Saudi Arabia has “religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people,” but said that his country as a whole does not have a problem with Jews. “Our Prophet Muhammad married a Jewish woman,” he added.
“There are no problems between Christian and Muslims and Jews [in Saudi Arabia]. We have problems like you would find anywhere in the world, among some people. But the normal sort of problems.”
Prince Salman went on to accuse Iran’s Supreme Leader of “trying to conquer the world” – even going so far as to call him “the Hitler of the Middle East.” MBS also said the JCPOA was a mistake and that none of the money gained through the deal is going to the Iranian people.
“President Obama believed that if he gave Iran opportunities to open up, it could change. But with a regime based on this ideology, it will not open up soon,” said MBS, adding that 60% of Iran’s economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.
“They took $150 billion after the deal. Can you please name one housing project they built with this money? One park? One industrial zone?” continued MBS. “For Saudi Arabia, there is a 0.1% chance that this deal would work to change the country. For President Obama, it was 50%. But even if there’s a 50% chance that it would work, we can’t risk it. The other 50% chance is war. We have to go to a scenario where there is no war.”
Mutual dislike of Iran is one of the only things SA has in common with Israel. Israel has hinted at a secret alliance with the kingdom, but the countries do not currently have an official relationship (nor does SA recognize the Jewish state).
In all likelihood, Prince Salman’s words about Israel and the JCPOA are part of an effort to improve the perception of his country in the eyes of Americans – who view the country in terms of its poor treatment of women and its military campaign in Yemen.
When asked whether SA’s campaign in Yemen is making the situation worse for civilians there, MBS pointed out that Yemen’s collapse began one year before the Saudi’s intervened.
“Our campaign [in Yemen] is focused on helping the legitimate government and bringing stability,” said MBS, adding that SA is the biggest donor to Yemen. “The people who are manipulating this aid in the 10% of Yemen not controlled by the government is the Houthis…What I want to say here, to make it simple, is that sometimes in the Middle East you don’t have good decisions and bad decisions. Sometimes you have bad decisions and worse decisions. Sometimes we have to choose the bad option.”
Salman, age 32, was appointed Crown Prince last summer after pushing his older cousin, Muhammad bin Nayef, out of the way. He is largely viewed as the power behind the throne of his father, King Salman, who is 82 years of age.
Author’s Note: Prince Salman’s affirmation that Israel has a right to exist is a polarizing move, considering that much of the religious radicalism in the Middle East is centered around Israel as the big enemy. MBS appears to be doing everything he can to improve ties with the United States. This is a good development and will give us a lot more leverage.