Riddles in Riyadh
Analysts often say the Middle East is in the middle of a “cold war.” On one side is Iran, the largest state sponsor of Islamic terrorism worldwide. On the other side is Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s largest economy and custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina. Both want to be the top dog in the Muslim world. They have fought for influence everywhere from Yemen to Syria to Lebanon to the Persian Gulf. The two appeared to be irreconcilable.
As of this month, it looks like this cold war’s Berlin Wall just fell. Most theaters of competition are mysteriously being settled almost overnight. And it looks like the Saudis are the ones spearheading the change. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who manages the government under his father, King Salman, has been undertaking an almost complete reversal of Saudi foreign policy.
The turn of the tide in Yemen’s civil war may be the most dramatic sign of this. The Saudis entered the Yemeni capital of Sanaa on April 9 for talks with the Houthi rebels. The talks are still ongoing, but they’ve already made tangible progress. The Houthis and Yemeni government have swapped almost 900 prisoners. The Saudis, for their part, unilaterally released 104 prisoners to Yemen. The current round of talks concluded April 13.
For eight years, the Yemeni government has faced an uprising from the Houthi movement, an Iranian proxy that wants to turn Yemen into an Islamist theocracy. The Saudis back the Yemeni government and associated militias. Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, meanwhile, lob bombs and drones across the border at each other. Much has to be ironed out, but the Saudis have made it clear that they want a disengagement.
This would effectively put Yemen into the hands of Iran’s proxy. At the very least, it legitimizes the Houthis’ presence in the country. Yemen sits on the Bab el-Mandeb strait—the southern exit point of the Red Sea. Whoever controls the Bab el-Mandeb controls trade from Asia to Europe and the Mediterranean. It is a highly strategic piece of real estate that the Saudis are giving up without a fight.
Another surprising turn of events is Saudi Arabia’s sponsoring of Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad has been an international pariah ever since the Syrian civil war started in 2011. That year, Syria was suspended from the Arab League. Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Assad in 2012 and has since become one of his most vocal critics. Yet recent events suggest Assad is coming back into the Arab world’s diplomatic fold. When the catastrophic series of earthquakes hit Syria and Turkey this February, the international community wasted no time in donating money, medical supplies and other goods to the Assad regime. Saudi Arabia and several other moderate Arab states pledged aid.
Since then, the Saudis have been pushing for Syrian normalization. On April 14, Saudi Arabia hosted a conference among the Arab League’s members on bringing Syria back into the bloc.
On April 12, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad made his first visit to Saudi Arabia in over 10 years. The day after, both governments announced they intend to reopen embassies and resume flights. On April 18, Assad hosted Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan. This was the first trip by a Saudi foreign minister to Damascus since the war started.
Tensions are warming to where Assad even told Russian state media that “Syria is no longer a scene of Saudi-Iran conflict.”
Small steps so far. But considering how much of a pariah Assad used to be, the sudden warming of relations is remarkable.
Then there is Saudi Arabia’s outreach to Hamas. Saudi Arabia was close to Hamas until the terrorist group took over Gaza as a de facto state in 2007. Right before that, Hamas signed a unity agreement with its archrival, the socialist-nationalist group Fatah, in Mecca. The Gaza takeover torpedoed the agreement. The Saudis blame Hamas for the collapse of unity negotiations. Under Crown Prince Mohammed, the Saudi government has imprisoned and (allegedly) tortured Hamas supporters.
As of this year, this animosity is fading away. Over the last few days, reports have been circulating that Ismail Haniyeh, Saleh al-Arouri and Khaled Mashal—all high-ranking members of Hamas—are in Saudi Arabia. The last time a high-ranking Hamas member visited Saudi Arabia was when Mashal, the group’s former politburo chairman, visited in 2015. An anonymous source told Turkish state media the Hamas delegation went to “discuss the latest Palestinian developments and Hamas-Saudi relations.” Before the visit, the Saudis released at least one Hamas prisoner.
The Saudi government refuses to confirm the reports. However, a video of Haniyeh and Mashal in Mecca at the Kaaba, the holiest shrine in Islam, is circulating on social media. The two can be seen in the middle ground at about seven seconds in:
What is most significant about this is the timing. On April 18, Saudi Arabia received another visitor: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas leads Fatah. Hamas and Fatah are nearly as hostile to each other as to Israel. Palestinian official media stated the purpose of Abbas’s visit is to “discuss the latest developments of the Palestinian cause and the situation in the region, and to strengthen the Palestinian-Saudi relations.”
It is unknown if any meeting has taken or will take place between Hamas and Abbas. But two bitter rivals are in Saudi Arabia at the same time to discuss the same thing. Crown Prince Mohammed could be trying to initiate a rapprochement between the two.
Hamas is an Iranian proxy, probably the one Iran values most of all. They regularly have skirmishes with Israel, the nation Iran calls the “little Satan.” The Saudis, meanwhile, generally side with the Palestinian Authority. But it appears they are reaching out to all Palestinians, political affiliations aside.
Iran has not changed its goals of becoming the king of the Middle East nor of spreading its revolution worldwide. Yet Saudi Arabia—Iran’s archrival in the Muslim world—is making friends with Iranian proxies the Houthis, the Assad regime and Hamas.
Iran and Saudi Arabia had a rapprochement of their own last month. They agreed to restore diplomatic relations and scale back meddling in each other’s affairs. But it is one thing to have a diplomatic reset. It is very much another to let your enemy get everything it wants—in this case, keeping its proxy empire in the Middle East intact. Something strange is going on.
Even stranger is that, amid all this, the Saudis are also reaching out to Israel. A report last month from the Wall Street Journal claimed the Saudis are in negotiations with the United States to provide security guarantees and a nuclear program in exchange for normalizing relations with Israel. An anonymous “senior Middle East diplomat” confirmed the report’s contents to the Times of Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t fazed by Saudi Arabia’s Iranian outreach. On a cnbc interview released April 20, he said, “Saudi Arabia … has no illusions about who are their adversaries and who are their friends in the Middle East.” He sees Israel as one of Saudi Arabia’s friends.
Saudi Arabia is getting very warm with both Iran (and Iran’s proxy empire) and Israel simultaneously. The big question is, why?
Crown Prince Mohammed’s actions have a lot to do with what’s going on in the United States. Ever since Joe Biden entered the White House, relations have gotten much colder. Biden has been hostile to Saudi Arabia for its involvement in the Yemen war and for the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. While campaigning for president, Biden said he would make the Saudis “pay the price” for human rights violations and “make them [a] pariah.” Since coming into office, he has issued sanctions on the Saudi security establishment and put travel bans on Saudi officials.
Biden has also been extremely friendly to Iran. Since coming into office, he has done everything to encourage Iran’s nuclear program, including restarting nuclear negotiations, and even without a deal, unfreezing billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian assets and approving nuclear sanctions waivers.
Iranian state media reported in February that Iran has produced uranium at roughly 84 percent purity; 90 percent purity is weapons-grade. Iran is closer than ever to obtaining a nuclear bomb. And America has sent every signal that it won’t come to Saudi Arabia’s defense if war were to break out. Saudi Arabia could be trying to get on Iran’s good side before a conflict erupts. As far as the situation in Yemen is concerned, Saudi Arabia has been intervening there since 2015. There is no end in sight for the conflict. It has been a public relations disaster. Saudi Arabia could be cutting its losses and letting Iran have Yemen.
But Saudi Arabia would not be getting close to Israel—much less asking for a nuclear program—if it genuinely saw Iran as a partner. It is opening up to Israel because it is afraid. Israel, for obvious reasons, is the one country that will never be reconciled to the current Iranian regime. It is also a nuclear power with a very strong economy. If a country like Saudi Arabia felt threatened by Iran, Israel would be a natural ally.
Where do Syria and the Palestinians fit in? Saudi Arabia’s economy is much bigger than Iran’s. It has more money to give to cash-strapped places like Syria and Gaza—and it can do so with a lot less flak from the West. If Syria and the Palestinians open up for more direct Saudi investment, they could easily find themselves stuck to the Saudis financially. (This isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. Egypt, for example, can only stay afloat as an economy through heavy investment from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.) Then, if a later rupture of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran were to occur, countries like Syria may feel pressured to cut ties with Iran.
Saudi Arabia could be cozying up to Iran’s allies with the intention of eventually stealing them. This may also explain Israel’s lack of concern. If this is Crown Prince Mohammed’s intention, it would be a diplomatic coup.
Syria and Gaza leaving the Iranian camp and joining Saudi Arabia would be an abrupt turn of events. But one source predicts such a turn. That source is the Holy Bible.
A prophecy in Psalm 83:1-8 reads: “Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God. For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head. They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones. They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee: the tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.”
The psalmist speaks of an alliance of various Middle Eastern peoples coming together for the purpose of wiping out the name of Israel. No such alliance, in membership nor in purpose, has ever formed. That is because this is a prophecy of a future alliance to form in our day. The key to understanding it is knowing the modern identities of these peoples.
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes in his booklet The King of the South:
Here are the modern names of these nations, as taught at Ambassador College under Herbert W. Armstrong: The Ishmaelites are Saudi Arabia; Moab and Ammon both refer to Jordan; the Hagarenes anciently dwelled in the land known as Syria today; the Philistines are the modern Palestinian Arabs; Gebal and Tyre are Lebanon. We cannot be extremely precise in this understanding, but it gives a good general idea.
One people listed here that lies outside the region is Assur. At one time, this was the capital of Assyria, which is the term that biblical prophecy uses for modern-day Germany. Germany is part of this alliance and is, in fact, the power behind it!
Notice that Iran is not included in the alliance. That is because it leads a rival Islamist power bloc that will clash with Germany and its Arab allies. Daniel 11:40 prophesies that this power bloc, under the name “the king of the south,” will clash with a German-led “king of the north.” (Mr. Flurry elaborates on this prophecy in The King of the South.)
Mr. Flurry continues:
Iran has led Hezbollah and the Palestinians in their terrorist activities for years. They all share some common enemies—especially America and Israel. But in some religious and political aspects, their views differ; this could cause Hezbollah and the Palestinians [and we could add Syria] to ally themselves with Germany. There may soon be some significant power shifts in Gaza.
Syria and Gaza are currently under Iran’s thumb. But Bible prophecy predicts these regions will at some point switch allegiance. The Saudi outreaches could be a big part of that.
To learn more, request a free copy of The King of the South.