Saudi King Salman
Saudi King SalmanReuters

Saudi King Salman on Monday sacked the military chief of staff and a host of other top commanders in a major shake-up of the defense establishment, AFP reported.

The king also replaced the heads of the ground forces and air defenses, as well as senior officials at the interior ministry, in a series of late-night royal decrees, according to the news agency.

No official reason was given for the sweeping overhaul, but it comes as the Saudi-led coalition's military intervention in Yemen against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels nears the end of its third year.

"Termination of the services of General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan, Chief of Staff," the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said, adding that Fayyad al-Ruwaili had been appointed as his replacement.

Al-Bunyan's sacking came after he inaugurated a major exhibition this week by the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), the state-owned defense company, which illustrates ongoing efforts to reform the sector.

"These Saudi royal decrees appear to be part of the kingdom's national defense strategy," Theodore Karasik, a senior advisor at the consultancy Gulf States Analytics, told AFP.

"A military transformation is under way in Saudi Arabia. The changes come on the heels of the SAMI exhibition, which is a critical part of the Prince Mohammed's reform plan to create an indigenous defense program," he added.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the throne and the son of the monarch, is the country's defense minister and has been consolidating his grip on power in recent months, , announcing crackdowns on both terrorism and corruption.

The crown prince portrays himself as a liberal reformer. Several months ago, he announced that the ultra-conservative kingdom would adopt a moderate and open Islam.

Previously, the kingdom announced it would cancel its longstanding ban on women driving, decided to allow women into sports stadiums, and announced that movie theaters will be permitted to operate in the country.

The crown prince is believed to have been behind all these changes.