On Monday, the kingdom announced that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen would begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world’s poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.
The move came just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who shocked the nation by announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital on November 4, gave an interview in which he backed off his strident condemnation of the Lebanese militant Hizballah, saying he would return to the country within days to seek a settlement with his rivals in his coalition government.
The two developments suggest that Saudi Arabia’s bullish young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, may be trying to pedal back from the abyss of a severe regional escalation.
“This represents de-escalation by the Saudis,” said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut.
“The general trend is that the Saudis are going to back off and this is largely because of the unexpected extent of international pressure, and not least of all US pressure.”
Mohammed bin Salman, widely known by his initials, MBS, has garnered a reputation for being decisive, as well as impulsive.
also appears to have the support of US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner, who visited the Saudi capital earlier this month.At just 32-years-old and with little experience in government, he has risen to power in just three years to oversee all major aspects of politics, security and the economy in Saudi Arabia. As defence minister, he is in charge of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Saudi partners in the Gulf and the Trump administration rushed to defend the kingdom publicly after a rebel Houthi missile was fired at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, from Yemen last week. A top US military official also backed Saudi claims that the missile was manufactured by Iran.
However, Saudi Arabia’s move to tighten an already devastating blockade on Yemen in response to the missile was roundly criticised by aid groups, humanitarian workers and the United Nations, which warned that the blockade could bring millions of people closer to “starvation and death.”
Public pressure, however, has not always worked to bring about a change in Saudi policy. The kingdom’s abrupt decision, in coordination with the United Arab Emirates, to cut ties with Qatar five months ago was widely criticised as an overreach.Saudi Arabia’s decision to ease off the blockade after just a week suggests it has bowed down to international criticism. It seems Riyadh did not want the bad publicity of even more images of emaciated Yemeni children and elderly people circulating online and in the media.