Over the next few days Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his father, King Salman, face the biggest decision of their lives at they respond to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities.
Get it wrong and the region could burn. Get it right and the desert Kingdom could prosper and reform as the ambitious Crown Prince plans.
The dilemma is to strike a balance between punishment and persuasion: To go for Iran’s jugular and unleash withering rounds of strikes on Iranian targets inside Iran or hold back, take the moral high ground, prove your case and win international backing for what ever course of action you take.
But here’s trouble for MBS and his father: In this region, if you play cautious and swallow your pride today, you could deal with it for the rest of your life.
It is a test that the Crown Prince cannot choke: If he does, his dreams of reform will turn to dust.
A little about the company: Aramco, the oil company that was the target of this attack, is the cash cow he needs to milk to turn the country’s economy away from hydrocarbons and keep the next generation of young Saudis in employment. Get the response to the attack wrong and confidence in the company will tumble, taking its value with it.
Two weeks ago in an apparent bid to speed a long discussed Aramco IPO, he replaced his energy minister with his half brother and switched out the Aramco boss for another close confidant. Whatever reasons he had for shifting gear then will look even starker now.
He must act decisively and without reasonable fear of retaliation. A second wave of similar attacks — something the Houthi rebels have threaten, whomever they are speaking for — would be disastrous for confidence in Aramco and the IPO.
MBS must be strongman, diplomat and peace maker all in one. Failure can not be an option.