Early this morning, the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah, passed away. With this, a new era of uncertainties and concerns arise for officials in the United States who have been negotiating with that country in the midst of Iran influence being spread and the continuing battle to decrease gains made by ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.
In a report from a former diplomat with the US who was close the Saudi royal family, the 90-year-old King’s death coupled with the US no longer providing the Yemen government support created a worst-case scenario. With this, another obstacle for Iran to reach into the region was removed.
As the diplomat stated, with these two situations, influence from Tehren is now visible in four of the capitals within the Middle East to include Yemen’s Sanaa, Damascus, Baghdad, and Beirut.
As one of his primary priorities while ruling, the King who was a Sunni Arab countered any advances made by Shiite Iran. In addition, he provided backing against allies of Tehren throughout a number of different countries although in some areas to include Lebanon, Iranian-backed Hezbollah were still able to gain the upper hand.
With the Tehren and Riyadh’s ambitions colliding, proxy conflicts worsened that only added fuel to Sunni-Shiite hatred, mainly seen in the Syria civil war where opposing sides were backed by two countries. Because of that, Sunni militancy increased to threaten Saudi Arabia.
More than likely, decisions made by Riyadh will be on the side of caution in the wake of the King’s passing, particularly when it comes to Syria and Iran. According to officials from Saudi Arabia, in the last few years of reigning, the King had become less fond of the United States, continually pushing President Obama to provide stronger backing against rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The King was also quoted as saying that he was angry when Obama ordered airstrikes against Damascus in 2013.
It is said that the late King viewed talks between the US and Iran as being dim regarding Iran’s nuclear program. He saw this as a sign that Washington had interest in doing things behind the backs of its allies.
Although no one knows exactly how the death of the King will impact things but many people it will open the door to a larger power vacuum in Riyadh than first thought. The King’s successor, half-brother Prince Salman who is 79 years old, had taken on some of the ailing King’s responsibilities in recent months but he is still not considered to be a healthy or strong leader in the eyes of US officials. For this reason, there is a chance that someone else within the royal family will become King.
There are two issues in particular that have been raised since the King died. The first is how the unrest in Yemen will be handled. Second, people are curious how the bombing campaign against the Islamic State led by the United States will pan out. King Abdullah was extremely afraid of ISIS’ growing power, so much so that airpower was committed.
In addition, there is question whether the strategy to increase oil production levels will continue, This month, Saudi Arabia has produced almost 10 million barrels of oil per day, which is adequate to satisfy 11% of demand globally even with the price of oil down significantly.