W hich state in the Middle East is controlled by a terror group?

If you said Syria or Iraq, you’d be wrong. Islamic State has lost its loci of power, at least for now.

Think Lebanon, where Hezbollah controls the government and the military.

Worse, Lebanon is an example of a state controlled by a terror organization — which is in turn controlled by a foreign power, Iran, that is the biggest state sponsor of terror in the world.

Meet Israel’s neighbor to the north.

All of this goes a long way toward explaining the events of the last two weeks that saw Saudi Arabia accuse Iran of an act of war in Yemen and pull its support for the Lebanese prime minister, Saad al-Hariri.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and future king, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), sees the chessboard clearly. Iran — with the help of the United States, and an Iraqi military armed by the United States — has just seen Islamic State destroyed on the battlefield. Tehran’s long-term goal of a land corridor to the Mediterranean is now in sight.

Look at a map: Iran now controls the northern half of the Middle East. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon are all under its sway. To the south, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt are joined by Saudi Arabia in opposing the mullahs’ advances. Yemen, to Saudi Arabia’s south, is a way for Iran to harass Riyadh on its flank.

Therefore, writes Hussein Ibish in the Atlantic, Mohammed bin Salman is taking the fight directly to Iran in its decades-old center of power. “With the removal of Hariri, who is perceived by Riyadh as having been too accommodating to Hezbollah, the prospect of an all-out political war to destabilize Hezbollah’s dominance of the Lebanese state seems set.”

Being the ambitious sort, MbS is launching his war against Iran while conducting an anticorruption purge at home. So far, he’s arrested 11 princes, four ministers, and 201 others for crimes including graft, bribery, and money laundering. All of these various billionaires, businessmen, and functionaries are being held under hotel arrest at the Ritz Carlton, Riyadh, which has become the world’s most lavish jail. The young prince hopes a largely disenfranchised youth (who make up 70% of the population) will back his power grab.

At the same time, he’s taken steps to break the hold of religious authorities by pledging to return Saudi Arabia to “moderate Islam,” and, for instance, by finally allowing women to drive. He’s also announced an initiative called Saudi Vision 2030, which seeks to break the country’s dependence on oil, reform its government, and train its population for “the jobs of the future.”

MbS is 32, the eldest son from the third marriage of King Salman. Interestingly, a number of press accounts have dwelled over the close relationship that’s developed between him and Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law. An early November story had the pair staying up until 4 a.m. over several nights in the kingdom “swapping stories and planning strategy.”


A cynic might say that MbS is cleverly manipulating foreign policy neophyte Kushner to serve his own ends. Maybe. But the fact remains that Saudi Arabia is finally doing what presidents Bush I and Bush II, along with Obama, long urged it to do: open up, quash religious radicalism, be a truly useful ally in the Middle East. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 685)