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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Saudi Press Agency via AP

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's decision to shake up Saudi Arabia's longstanding patronage system and root out "corruption" introduces further uncertainties after a decade of black swan events in global oil. Just when companies were adjusting to the idea that oil prices might be lower for longer, the prospect of Saudi Arabia behaving in less than predictable ways is unnerving pundits and oil market participants alike.

Saudi Arabia has generally played the role of conservative power across the Middle East, with longstanding alliances and consistent geopolitical responses. When the kingdom declared — in the midst of U.S. efforts to negotiate a deal on nuclear weapons with Iran — that it would now pursue its own interests more vigorously, few would have foreseen the kingdom taking on a two-front war and replenishing its treasury with the restitution to the state of billions of dollars in assets amassed by Saudi princes and executives whose business-as-usual practices were highly unpopular with average Saudis.

What's next: Odds are that oil prices will now wind up higher than otherwise expected. Riyadh can ill afford an oil price collapse, forcing it to endorse policies inside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and beyond that keep the price of oil lofty. Another contingency is the prospect of expanded conflict in the Mideast from a more muscular Saudi stance, which could move oil markets back onto a pins-and-needles footing.

Go deeper

10 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.