King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud remains committed to an expansionary fiscal policy and an aggressive defense of the Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy interests, despite lower oil receipts and the kingdom’s deepening entanglement in a regional proxy war with Iran. Generous social spending will continue to dampen the risk of generalized domestic unrest, but there are signs that the concentration of political control in the hands of top members of the royal hierarchy that has accompanied preparations for an inevitable transfer of power to the next generation of Saudi princes is sowing dissent among members of the royal family.
Two letters allegedly penned by an anonymous Saudi prince have explicitly called upon senior members of the royal family to depose Salman and his chosen successors, citing the rapid depletion of the kingdom’s oil reserve fund and the lack of results from Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen as further evidence of gross mismanagement. It is unclear how much credence should be granted to the letters. However, the expressed dissatisfaction with the structural and policy changes that have been implemented since Salman took the throne in January is probably an accurate reflection of the concerns of at least some top figures in the royal establishment, and, to that extent, highlight some of the challenges for the king and his designated successors.
In the near term, the most significant political risk associated with the military effort in Yemen stems for the possibility of mission creep. The government is expected to stay cautious and limit its military exposure, leaving the bulk of the fighting on the ground to allied forces. However, signs that the failure of intervention to deliver the decisive blow promised at the onset of the campaign is undermining faith in the competence of Defense Minister Mohamed bin Salman, who was named deputy crown prince by his father in late April, creates a risk that the Saudi leadership might deploy additional troops to Yemen in the hope of achieving more substantive progress on the battlefield, a strategy that could backfire if such a move instead produces an increase in Saudi military casualties.