King Salman of Saudi Arabia has inherited the throne from his older brother and with it a host of pressing challenges in a turbulent region.
To the south, Yemen is in chaos. To the north, the militant group ISIS is wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria. More broadly, Saudi Arabia remains locked in a regional cold war with Iran.
Within the kingdom’s borders, Salman has to decide how to pace sensitive reforms while keeping a lid on extremism. The stakes are high in one of the leading regional powers in the Middle East and a key U.S. ally.
The pro-Saudi government in Yemen has crumbled amid sectarian unrest. The country’s president and prime minister resigned Thursday night after a move by Shiite Houthi rebels to gain power in the capital in recent days.
Sunni majority Saudi Arabia, which provides energy and financial support to Yemen and shares a long border with it, is looking on with growing anxiety, fearful of the prospect of another Shiite-dominated state in the region.
“This will terrify the Saudis, just as the Shia uprising in Bahrain did,” said CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer.
“Saudi Arabia, all these years, has avoided sending troops into Yemen. It’s a quagmire for the Saudis,” said Baer. “They’ve got a reinforced border and they’ve put a lot of troops down there. But, still, they are panicking.”
Mohammed Albasha, a spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington, told CNN on Wednesday that without Saudi support, “Yemen will become a failed state.”
The Yemen crisis feeds into a broader issue for Saudi Arabia: the growing influence of Iran in the region.
Yemeni officials have frequently accused Iran of providing financial support and weapons to the Houthis in an effort to control Yemen’s Red Sea coast, on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.