The Saudi night of the long knives was followed by the sudden appearance of Saad Hariri in the Kingdom, announcing that he was resigning as prime minister of Lebanon. Then came the news that the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had been summoned to Riyadh. The 32-year-old Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is seeking to exert control both at home and abroad, in the process ratcheting up tension in an already volatile Middle East.
Mohammed Bin Salman al Saud wants to consolidate authority in Saudi Arabia in his hands and, at the same time, be the kingmaker in other lands. It is an extraordinarily high-risk strategy, and one even the seemingly uber-confident young Prince would not have embarked on without a powerful outside sponsor.
He appears to have found one. Donald Trump expressed support for the purge in a phone call to King Salman. The US President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, paid a secretive visit to Riyadh a few days ago. But this support is likely to have come at a price. Mr Trump has tweeted that he wants the $2 trillion float of Saudi oil giant Aramco to take place in New York. The President added he had raised the matter in the call to the Saudi king. The UK would be the loser in the byproduct of this. London was hoping to be the place for the flotation, bringing with it a massive post-Brexit boost. The journeys of supplication by Theresa May and other ministers to Riyadh to achieve this may have been in vain.