BERLIN — Germany’s foreign intelligence agency believes Saudi Arabia’s ambitious defense minister could endanger the Gulf kingdom’s ties with regional allies by attempting to cement his place in the royal succession, according to a memo released Wednesday.
It is unusual for the BND spy agency to publicly release such a blunt assessment on a country that is considered an ally of the West. Germany has long-standing political and economic ties with Saudi Arabia.
Under King Salman and his son Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the defense minister, Saudi Arabia is trying to position itself as the leader of the Arab world, the agency noted in the memo. Saudis with knowledge of the royal family say Salman is in his mid-80s. He has been in power since January, following the death of his half-brother King Abdullah.
“The previous cautious diplomatic stance of older leaders within the royal family is being replaced by a new impulsive policy of intervention,” the BND said, citing the kingdom’s involvement in Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq and Yemen.
The Saudi royal court couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the report and the Saudi Foreign Ministry didn’t return a call.
The memo also warned that “the concentration of economic and foreign policy power in Mohammed bin Salman carries the latent risk that, in trying to establish his position in the royal succession during his father’s lifetime, he might draw the ire of other members of the royal family and the population with expensive measure or reforms, and also strain relations with friendly and allied states in the region.”
Just months after his father became king, Mohammed bin Salman, 30, was named second-in-line to the throne, drawing rare public rebuke from a few senior princes. First-in-line to the throne is Interior Minister and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the king’s nephew.
In addition to his role as deputy crown prince and defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman also oversees the country’s top economic council and Saudi oil policy.
Washington-based think tank The Brookings Institution published an essay in September that said the prince’s “unbridled ambition has alienated many of his fellow princes,” adding that “he has a reputation for arrogance and ruthlessness.”