Wednesday 21 August 2019

Tensions rise between Saudi and Iran after 'missile attack by Houthi rebels'

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Josie Ensor

Saudi Arabia yesterday said it was shutting Yemen's land, sea and air borders after accusing Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of a missile attack on its capital, as tension escalated between the kingdom and Tehran.

Saudi accused Iran of war crimes after a ballistic missile reportedly fired by the Shia rebels from Yemen landed near Riyadh's international airport.

"The kingdom reserves the right to respond in a timely manner to the hostile actions of the Iranian regime," warned Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi's foreign minister. Saudi Arabia and Iran are opposed in disputes and conflicts across the Middle East, from Yemen and Syria to Qatar and Lebanon.

Late on Sunday, a helicopter carrying a prince and several senior Saudi officials inexplicably crashed in Asir province near the Yemen border.

Prince Mansour bin Moqren, the deputy governor of Asir and son of a former crown prince deposed by King Salman, died in the crash.

He had been attempting to flee the country, 'Middle East Eye' quoted sources as saying.

The Houthi have not claimed responsibility. The crash came after a weekend of major political upheaval in the kingdom dubbed "the night of long knives", which saw a purge of at least 38 princes, ministers, senior officials and businessmen.

The highest-profile royal caught in the sweep was Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an outspoken billionaire royal with investments in Western companies including the Savoy Hotel in London.

Critics say that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (32), is attempting to wipe out the old guard, whom he sees as a threat to his rule before his eventual rise to the throne.

The campaign of mass arrests of royals, ministers and businessmen widened yesterday after top entrepreneur Nasser bin Aqeel al-Tayyar was reportedly held in the biggest anti-corruption purge of the kingdom's affluent elite in its modern history.

Both allies and adversaries are quietly astonished that a kingdom once obsessed with stability has acquired such a taste for assertive - some would say impulsive - policy-making.

The crackdown has drawn no public opposition within the kingdom either on the streets or social media.

Many ordinary Saudis applauded the arrests, the latest in a series of domestic and international moves asserting the prince's authority.

But outside the kingdom, critics perceive the purge as a further sign of intolerance from a power-hungry leader keen to stop influential opponents blocking his economic reforms or reversing the expansion of his own political clout.

In an article in the 'Washington Post', prominent Saudi columnist Jamal Kashoggi applauded the anti-graft campaign, but added: "He is imposing very selective justice."

"The crackdown on even the most constructive criticism - the demand for complete loyalty with a significant 'or else' - remains a serious challenge to the crown prince's desire to be seen as a modern, enlightened leader," Mr Kashoggi wrote.

"The buck stops at the leader's door. He is not above the standard he is now setting for the rest of his family, and for the country."

The front page of leading Saudi newspaper 'Okaz' challenged businessmen yesterday to reveal the sources of their assets, asking: "Where did you get this?" in bright red text.

Another headline from Saudi-owned 'al-Hayat' warned: "After the launch [of the anti-corruption drive], the noose tightens, whomever you are!" (© Daily Telegraph London)

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