Like a frog, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) has been hopping from one toadstool to the next in his quest to find political relevance.
Treated as a pariah and, therefore, barred from some Western capitals over his role in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi three years ago—although this will not last too long—MbS has had to opt for second choice: regional countries.
His regional tour started in Oman. Then it was off to the UAE followed by Qatar, Bahrain and finally Kuwait.
It is interesting to note the nuances.
Oman, Qatar and Kuwait have maintained cordial relations with Islamic Iran.
Led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have been quite hostile to Tehran.
This is changing now, at least as far as the UAE and Saudi Arabia are concerned.
The UAE has had to climb down from its hostile stance toward Iran in recent months.
Two factors have spurred this policy change.
First, the Yemeni Ansarallah missile strike on Saudi Aramco facilities on September 14, 2019 knocking the kingdom’s oil output by half.
The US non-response was a signal that Washington would no longer fight on behalf of Saudi Arabia even though the US is complicit in Saudi war crimes in Yemen.
The US defeat in Afghanistan and its ignominious escape from Kabul last August was the last straw that broke the proverbial Arabian camel’s back.
Aware that the US will no longer worry about these potentates since its focus has shifted to Asia-Pacific to confront China, the Arabian dinosaurs saw the writing on the wall.
They had better rectify their behaviour, especially toward Iran if they want to survive on their shaky thrones.
Tehran has always called for cordial relations without outside interference in regional affairs.
The UAE has signalled its willingness to make amends although it cannot be relied upon entirely.
There are also indirect talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia facilitated by Iraq.
It was apparent from their body language that MbS and the UAE deputy ruler, Mohammad bin Zayed (MbZ) are not quite comfortable with each other.
They see each other as rivals, something MbZ clearly resents.
Interestingly with the Qatari emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the chemistry was much better.
This is quite surprising since in June 2017, Saudi Arabia launched a boycott of Qatar joined by Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain.
MbS also made a list of 13 demands that Doha must fulfill if its siege was to end.
The demands included shutting down Al Jazeera and expelling Turkish troops from the tiny state.
Qatar refused and Turkey and Iran quickly came to its rescue.
Doha was not only able to weather the storm but came out on top in the Saudi-led boycott.
Today, Qatar enjoys far greater international respectability on the global stage despite its tiny size than Saudi Arabia.
Qatar hosted talks between the US and Taliban.
It has also hosted the Taliban’s political office in Doha since 2013.
It has maintained cordial relations with Iran and Turkey and the Qatari Emir is seen as a responsible player, unlike MbS.
The new-found warmth between MbS and Sheikh Tamim should not be mistaken for a genuine change of heart by the Saudi upstart.
It is essentially an acknowledgement by MbS that his policies have been a disaster.
He is now seeking Qatar’s help in extricating himself from the Yemeni quagmire.
The report in Arabnews was quite revealing.
It wrote: “On Yemen, the two sides said they were united in their efforts to find a comprehensive political solution to the crisis, and Qatari (sic) praised the Kingdom’s initiative to end the war and the suffering of the Yemeni people.” (emphasis added).
The Saudis and their allies have waged a brutal war against Yemen since March 2015.
It has caused more than 250,000 casualties and mass starvation and widespread destruction.
Yet, far from achieving their military or political goals, the Saudis have failed miserably.
Instead, the Yemeni defenders have taken the war deep inside Saudi Arabia.
MbS finds himself in trouble, hence the joint statement with Qatar to find a “political solution” to the problem in Yemen.
Has MbS been sufficiently chastened to see sense?
Only time will tell whether he is willing to rectify his erratic behavior.
His past conduct does not leave much room for optimism.