(Reuters) – Saudi King Salman appointed a new heir and made his young son second in line to rule on Wednesday, a major shift in power toward two princes who have overseen a more assertive stance at a time of almost unprecedented regional turmoil.
By making Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef, 55, crown prince and Defence Minister Mohammed bin Salman, 30, deputy crown prince, King Salman has effectively decided the line of succession for decades to come in the world’s top oil exporter.
The appointments signal a tougher foreign policy, particularly toward regional foe Iran, but little change to a firm hand against dissent at home, where Riyadh this week said it had detained 93 suspected Islamic State militants.
Almost all powers under the king are now concentrated in the hands of the pair, who each chair committees determining all security and economic development issues in Saudi Arabia, and have led Riyadh’s month-old campaign of air strikes in Yemen.
In another big shift, Salman replaced veteran Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who had served in the role since October 1975, with the kingdom’s Washington ambassador Adel al-Jubeir, the first non-royal to hold the post.
Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who replaces Prince Muqrin, the successor chosen by the late King Abdullah before his death in January, enjoys closer personal ties with U.S. officials than almost any other senior royal, diplomats have said.
The changes come as Saudi Arabia navigates the messy aftermath of the Arab spring and worries that its strategic partner Washington is disengaging from the region. It has broken with decades of backroom politics by bombing Yemen.
The Yemen move, closely associated with both Prince Mohammeds, is seen by analysts as indicative of a more confrontational foreign policy under Salman and his ruling team, who have worked to build a coalition of Sunni allies against Iran.