Amid his sweeping cultural reforms and systematic purges from the royal family, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince this week called Iran’s supreme leader the “new Hitler of the Middle East,” comments that are sure to ratchet up the conflict between the two rival Muslim powers.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made the statements about Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an interview with The New York Times that was published Thursday. Salman told The Times that Iran's efforts to expand “needed to be confronted."
The prince, 32, who is expected to succeed his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 81, compared Iran and Saudi Arabia’s power struggle in the region to those fighting for Europe in World War II.
“But we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East,” Salman told The New York Times.
The Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia support rival sides in the various wars and political battles occurring throughout the region. Saudi Arabia backs Sunni Muslims while Tehran backs Shiite Muslims.
Tensions between the two countries escalated earlier this month when Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced in Saudi Arabia that he was resigning from his position. Hariri accused Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Shiite political party and terror group based in Lebanon, of holding his country hostage and plotting against him. Saudi Arabia has also accused Hezbollah of meddling on Iran’s behalf in regional affairs.
Hezbollah, however, accused Saudi Arabia of engineering Hariri’s resignation, calling it “an act of war,” Reuters reported.
Hariri returned to Lebanon this week and said he was putting his resignation on hold.
Salman also told The New York Times the war in Yemen was “going in its favor.” The war, which has raged since 2015, has pitted a Saudi-led coalition backed by the U.S. against the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s ousted president. The war has left over 10,000 people dead, driven 3 million from their homes and destroyed the country’s already fragile infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of sending aid to the Houthi rebels in Yemen while Tehran has denied the accusations, the BBC reported.
Iran did not immediately responded to Salman’s comments but Khamenei has previously called Saudi Arabia’s royal family, the House of Saud, an “accursed tree” and accused the kingdom of “spreading terrorism.”
A November crackdown saw the arrests of 11 members of the House of Saud on various charges related to "corruption." In the midst of the arrests and constant countering of Iran, Saudi Arabia has also worked to institute reforms such as allowing women to drive vehicles in the Kingdom.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.