Originally published in The Jerusalem Post
King Abdullah ibn Abdilazīz of Saudi Arabia, known in the kingdom as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, has died at an estimated age of 91. The cause of his death was not immediately released by the state.
The new king is Crown Prince Salman, 78, state media announced, despite reports that he himself suffers from health problems.
“His Highness Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and all members of the family and the nation mourn the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who passed away at exactly 1 a.m. this morning,” said the statement.
US President Barack Obama expressed “personal condolences” with “deep respect” upon word of Abdullah’s passing on Thursday night, reflecting on a “genuine and warm friendship” in a statement.
“King Abdullah’s life spanned from before the birth of modern Saudi Arabia through its emergence as a critical force within the global economy and a leader among Arab and Islamic nations,” Obama said. “He took bold steps in advancing the Arab Peace Initiative, an endeavor that will outlive him as an enduring contribution to the search for peace in the region.”
“May God grant him peace,” Obama added.
Abdullah took power in 2005, and was hospitalized last month suffering from pneumonia. He led the kingdom into a worldwide military alliance against the Islamic State.
King Salman, thought to be 79, has been crown prince and defense minister since 2012. He was governor of Riyadh province for five decades before that.
“Any appearance of a smooth succession is probably illusory,” said Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near Easy Policy. “Yemen, ISIS, Iran – all of these are Saudi nightmares and not trending well for Riyadh.”
Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest oil producer, do not exist.