Alistair Cooke, a former British diplomat is well versed in Middle East affairs. He recently penned a piece with the title, Saudi Arabia’s Desperate Gamble. And it pretty much sums up his view that Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman has done just that. I agree. Cooke concludes that this wager is likely to fail. I, on the other hand, believe that, depending on the US, it might have a good chance of succeeding.Cooke is convinced that MBS’ hopes of moving towards ‘a moderate Islam’ will fail on two fronts. First, because Saudi Arabia’s political system is structured not only to serve the oligarchic royal family but also to appease tribal chieftains. Second, such steps will also be challenged by the strict ‘Wahhabis’. Let us examine things in more detail. Given the recent developments in Lebanon, most analysts are focused on the Saudi-US failure in Syria and (in some cases) Iraq as the root cause(s) of regional unrest. Yet I think they should delve deeper. For even as the so-called Arab Spring was being suppressed by the Middle East’s monarchies — I expressed the view that these fires had not been extinguished indefinitely; that the flames would ignite once more. Much of what we are now seeing in the region is a resurgence of the movement that sought political empowerment of the people.And the Crown Prince understands this better than most. He realises that the present oligarchic and political structure must do or die. In one fell swoop, a fortnight ago, he arrested those who constituted or assisted the oligarchy. Moreover, MBS is also mindful that for any political ‘liberalisation’ to succeeded — this must be preceded by or complemented by economic restructuring. China is already helping the Saudis to industrialize. But the latter need a regular income. Thus Riyadh requires an oil-thirsty market and that means Beijing, which is tilting towards Iran. But if Tehran is further destabilised, Saudi Arabia will be the only remaining alternative. Ergo, Iran’s fate has been sealedThe latter is imperative for Saudi Arabia given that the era of the petro-dollar, if not already at an end, is fast dying. Thus for any economic reinvention, the Kingdom needs money; and lots of it. No one doubts that the allegations of corruption against the rounded-up oligarchs were intended to squeeze them out of oodles and oodles of money. And on November 16, that news became public.Thus has the Crown Prince solved two pressing problems. Not only has he rid himself of the oligarchs — he has, by all accounts, found the money to restructure the Saudi economy. I agree with Cooke when he suggests that any moves towards ‘moderate Islam’ would find resistance. But, if the ‘incidental’ liberalisation of Islam were a consequence of a more ‘participatory’ government under a benign monarch, for which the people are ready to fight, and if that is indeed MBS’ vision, then I for one am certain it will succeed. Of course, there is always one joker in the deck. Most of the monies that the Crown Prince is seeking to re-appropriate are banked in the US. Thus American goodwill is needed, at least in the interim, to have these released.Be that as it may, investing in industrialisation does bring with it a gestation period. Meaning that Riyadh will also require a steady and regular national income for some years to come. Aside from India, China has already undertaken some projects to assist the Saudis in the industrialisation process. But this still leaves the question of a regular income. Thus the Kingdom still needs an oil-thirsty market and Beijing is its best bet. However, the latter appears to be viewing Iran as its preferred choice; which is, of course, more readily accessible. Yet if Tehran were to be further destabilised, Saudi Arabia would be the only remaining alternative. Ergo, Iran’s fate has been sealed, whatever it takes. And if, in the process, Qatar and Lebanon can be of use — well, it is collateral damage for them. But the real beauty of this entire mosaic is that, as it is unfolding in real time, it absolutely follows the Trump script; which might sway the American president into releasing those much needed funds.The kicker being that this will push Beijing towards Riyadh when it comes to buying additional fuel, say, five years hence. Thus MBS, as if by magic, will have found the source of steady income to secure industrialisation for another few decades. Being young, the Crown Prince feels certain that his rule will be a long one. He is probably right. Meaning that during this period he can move towards the liberalisation or moderation of the political and religious system, at a pace of his own choosing. And if, in the meanwhile, the entire Middle East is destabilised, so much the better. For a politically liberated kingdom might just attempt and achieve landmass expansion. Yet to those who have been watching recent events and have concluded that it is Mr Trump who ‘rules’ Saudi Arabia, I suggest that they allow themselves to ponder an alternative possibility. The Crown Prince knows exactly which country is waxing and which is waning. If I have judged MBS accurately — my one regret is that this Machiavellian Prince is not Pakistani.The writer is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)Published in Daily Times, November 19th 2017.