Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Calls Iran's Ayatollah 'the New Hitler'

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman photographed November 14, 2017 (L); An Iranian woman holds a portrait of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, April 13, 2015.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (BNS), has called the Supreme Leader of Iran "the new Hitler of the Middle East", exacerbating a war of words between the two countries which are arch-rivals in the region.

The 32-year-old Prince made the remarks in an interview with The New York Times on Thursday, November 23, in which he claimed Iran's alleged expansion attempts should be confronted.

"[Iran's] supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East," he said, referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"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," BNS continued.

The Shia Islamic Republic of Iran and the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia support opposing sides in conflicts and political crises across the region.

In war-torn Yemen, Iran support Houthi forces who control the capital Sana'a and are allied with loyalists of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. On the other hand, a Saudi-led coalition supports forces allied to the ousted government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, based in Aden. Both factions claim they constitute the government of Yemen, where at least 10,000 people have been killed since the civil war erupted in 2015.

Earlier this month, Houthi rebels launched a missile towards the main airport in the Saudi capital Riyadh, a move the Kingdom labelled as an act of war by Tehran. The incident also prompted Saudi Arabia to increase airstrikes in Yemen.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani defended the Houthi missile launch and accused its rival of being behind the creation of the Islamic State (Isis) terror group, which used to control large swathes of territories in Iraq and war-torn Syria.

Yemen war
Yemeni children demonstrate on the occasion of the UN's Universal Children's Day on November 20 in front of the UN offices in the capital Sanaa, as they protest against the airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. Saudi Arabia and Iran support opposing factions in the conflict. MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

Tensions further mounted after Lebanon's Saudi-allied Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation in a televised speech broadcast from Riyadh on 4 November. Hariri, who has since suspended his resignation, claimed at the time that Iran-backed Hezbollah political party and paramilitary movement was meddling in Lebanon and he feared for his life.

Hezbollah did not acknowledge Hariri's resignation. The movement's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, accused Saudi Arabia of declaring war against the whole of Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia is among the Gulf countries that isolated Qatar diplomatically and economically earlier this year, sparking what has been deemed as one of the worst Gulf crises in recent years. Iran, along with Turkey, backs Qatar.

"Though relations between the two countries are constantly deteriorating, an all-out war could be much worse for Saudi Arabia than for Iran," Naseer Giyas, a researcher with a focus on the Middle East, tells Newsweek.

"The Sunni Kingdom's ruler is desperately trying to bring about economic reforms and the country is already at war with rebels in Yemen. How can they achieve economic prosperity by indulging in another war with a powerful regional country like Iran?

"Saudi Arabia needs to focus more on its foreign policy, currently not suitable for its own agenda of economic reforms," Giyas continues.

"A conflict between these two countries would create more rifts between Sunni and Shia Muslims, not a good sign for the entire region and the Muslim world as a whole."