Kushner's intentions, political aspirations and motives have largely escaped scrutiny [AFP]
Date of publication: 29 November, 2017
Comment: Amid Saudi Arabia's dramatic reshuffle, the involvement of Donald Trump's ambitious son-in-law has not gone unnoticed, writes Sam Fouad.
Over the weekend of 4 November, the climax of a political and societal reshuffle in Saudi Arabia manifested itself with great drama and aplomb, grabbing international headlines and sending shockwaves across the Middle East.
Caught up in the mess are dozens of Saudi political figures, as well as the countries of Lebanon, Yemen, Qatar, Israel and Iran.
But another more surprising figure who's been partly in the limelight and partly in the shadows, is President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Having visited the kingdom multiple times since his appointment as Trump's senior adviser, Kushner's intentions, political aspirations and motives in the White House have largely escaped scrutiny.
However, with the recent arrests by Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) described by some as a "power grab", and by the kingdom as an attempt to "root out corruption" [read: opposition], Kushner has - as expected - come back into the spotlight.
But why should Kushner be involved in this maelstrom? The ties between Israel and his family date back to the Holocaust, from which his grandparents escaped in Poland.
Kushner attended a modern Orthodox Jewish school in New Jersey, and his family has used the wealth it accumulated from real estate business ventures, to donate millions to Israeli hospitals, schools and other institutions. Kushner was raised in a family that personally knew Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was friendly with his father, Charles Kushner.
Eye to eye on Iran
With Mohammed bin Salman continuing to lead the blockade against Qatar, dragging out a bloody war which has turned into a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, and reportedly ordering the Lebanese prime minister to resign, Saudi Arabia's recent flurry of political plays for regional hegemony all point to a zero-sum attitude towards Iran.
In addition to amassing political power for himself within the kingdom, bin Salman also seems to be putting all his cards on the table in an effort to curtail Iran's growing influence in the Middle East.
In Syria, Bashar al-Assad's government seems to have won back a rump of the nation, defeating Saudi-financed militias and other rebels. They have done this with help from Russia, Lebanese Hizballah and other Iranian proxies.
The war in Yemen has reached a stalemate, with the Houthis and other Iranian-financed proxies holding out under severe Saudi bombardment for years. Just a few days ago, Houthi rebels in Yemen fired a missile towards the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
Broadening the battlefield
Saudi Arabia's blockade against Qatar also has not manufactured the desired results, as Qatar has been able to withstand it for months on end, leading to yet another regional stalemate.
Perhaps aware of this growing list of foreign policy debacles, Saudi Arabia is now attacking Iran on other fronts, this time with Lebanon firmly in the crosshairs. This fully-fledged political game of cat-and-mouse has not gone unnoticed.
Israel - another of Iran's enemies - seems to have aligned its regional foreign policy with that of Saudi Arabia, albeit in a quieter way.
While Saudi Arabia has been grabbing headlines, creating setbacks for itself, and bombing thousands of innocent civilians in Yemen, Israel is using diplomacy and shrewd political manoeuvring to reach the same result: The isolation of Iran.
With Jared Kushner in the White House calling the shots when it comes to the Middle East, Israel has found eager allies in the United States and Saudi Arabia with regards to Iran.
Kushner has been leading unannounced American delegations to Saudi Arabia in the last few weeks, and he personally intervened to wrap up a deal involving $110 billion of weapons sales to the Saudis.
In fact, Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, seems to believe that Kushner's personal visit to Saudi Arabia led to its destabilising actions towards Lebanon in recent days.
While on a mission assist Israel by attacking Hizballah in Lebanon and reducing Iranian influence in the region, Kushner also has his father-in-law's ear.
President Trump came out in support for the prince's actions, tweeting "I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing. Some of those they are harshly treating have been 'milking' their country for years".
Suffice to say that anyone who has been paying attention to Saudi actions under the young crown prince can see that actually, the reality often tells another story.
At best, another economic and political blockade could be aimed at Lebanon with the intention of squeezing out Hizballah. At worst, the Middle East may suffer through yet another war.
Mohammed bin Salman is announcing to the world that he has arrived, and that Saudi Arabia will be more ambitious than ever. It is also clear that Jared Kushner wields more power as it relates to American foreign policy in the Middle East than might be assumed.
Sam Fouad is a political consultant and a global affairs analyst based in Washington, DC.