The Khashoggi case crudely exposes the narrow limits of Saudi reform

The murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has crudely exposed the narrow limits of the reforms undertaken by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and the contradictions of Riyadh’s long alliance with the United States, as well as the regional disputes with Turkey

The Khashoggi case crudely exposes the narrow limits of Saudi reform
A demonstrator holds picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey - Photo: Osman Orsal/REUTERS
English 18/10/2018 17:41 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 16:07

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The murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has crudely exposed the narrow limits of the reforms undertaken by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and the contradictions of Riyadh’s long alliance with the United States, as well as the regional disputes with Turkey.

On October 2, Khashoggi, a journalist well-connected with the Saudi palace intrigues and contributor to The Washington Post far from being a “dissident” as the Western mainstream media has portrayed him, entered the diplomatic offices to retrieve a document showing he was divorced so he could marry his Turkish fiancée.

Two hours later, he was dead and dismembered, according to the Turkish authorities.

Gruesome details leaked to the press this week revealed that 15 Saudi agents, including four members from Salman’s security team, arrived the same day to Istanbul in two private jets and waited for his victim in the consulate.

Khashoggi, who was living in Virginia for the past year, was shown into the office of the consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, where the agents grabbed him and began torturing him.

They reportedly cut off the journalist’s fingers with the aid of a bone saw and a doctor of forensic medicine, identified as Salah Al Tabiqi.

The doctor, said one Turkish official who described the content of an audio recording, told others in the room “when I do this job, I listen to music. You should do that too”, while al-Otaibi objected. “Do this outside. You will put me in trouble”, he told them.

“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up”, one of the agents fired back. The hit squad then proceeded to behead and dismember Khashoggi’s body. Within two hours the killers fled the country, carrying his remains.

In the face of the Turkish allegations and the growing international pressure— business leaders such as Steve Case and Richard Branson canceled their collaboration with Saudi Arabia—, the first response from Riyadh was to deny any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

However, the state-run news channel Al Arabiya published a threatening editorial highlighting “more than 30 potential measures” to be taken against the imposition of sanctions—virtually excluded by U.S. President Donald Trump—“that would hit the U.S. economy much harder than Saudi Arabia’s economic climate.”

Oil price hike

The sanctions, it said, would lead to Saudi Arabia’s failure to produce 7.5 million barrels of oil per day, precipitating a price hike in the order of USD $200 per barrel.

The oil barrel would be priced in Chinese yuan instead of dollars, the editorial warned.

In the geopolitical arena, and Riyadh would allow the installation of a Russian military base in Tabuk, northwest of Saudi Arabia, “in the heated four corners of Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Iraq.”

Saudi Arabia buys 10% of the total U.S. weapons production and buys 85% of the U.S. Army, while its investments in the United States government reach USD $800 billion, added Al Arabiya.

The aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, 17 years ago, was the last time Riyadh threatened to withdraw its considerable financial assets from its allied country.

The sole fact that 15 of the 19 suicide hijackers were Saudi citizens just as Al Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden, was a strong motive to investigate the possible Saudi intervention in the attacks.

Nevertheless, the official inquiry was sacrificed in the altar of the U.S. economic and foreign interests and that is also the main reason behind Trump’s efforts to whitewash the murder of Khashoggi talking about the action of “rogue killers.”

Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Saudi capital, where the envoy “thanked” the royal government for its “commitment to supporting a thorough, transparent and timely investigation.”

Virtually speaking on behalf of the Saudis, the U.S. media scrambled to report that Riyadh would acknowledge Khashoggi’s death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong,” one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.

Other sources stressed that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency,” and that those involved “will be held responsible.”

The Saudi rulers—said The New York Times— are considering blaming General Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking espionage officer close to Salman, who U.S. intelligence agencies “are increasingly convinced was behind Khashoggi’s disappearance”.

Suspicious accident

Meanwhile, Mashal Saad al-Bostani, 31, a Saudi Royal Air Force lieutenant who was among the hit squad in Istanbul, died in a “suspicious traffic accident” in Riyadh, reported the Turkish media.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Middle East adviser, has been urging the president to stand by Salman— also known as MBS—, arguing
that the outrage over the case will pass, just as it did after other Saudi crimes like the brutal killing of civilians in Yemen.

Yet this does not exclude the existence of bilateral and regional tensions, as Trump himself showed earlier this month, declaring that Saudi Arabia “would not survive two weeks” on its own without American protection.

For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the episode has brought the opportunity to gain ground in its dispute with Riyadh over Muslim leadership, and to achieve rapprochement with Trump, who imposed sanctions to his government demanding the liberation of the U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson.

So why was Khashoggi viciously killed? According to Consortium News, he distinguished himself with an uncanny ability to adjust his views to those of the prevailing Saudi regime.

Nephew of Adnan Khashoggi, weapon dealer in the 80’s involved in the Iran-Contras scandal, he even fought with Bin Laden against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and promoted the cause of Islamic fundamentalism.

Khashoggi supported the war against Yemen—in the light of his case the international community has “discovered” that the country is suffering the worst humanitarian disaster—, yet he gradually lost his patrons due to his sympathies with Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, once the religious faction sponsored and nurtured by Riyadh.

In addition to this, on Egyptian television, Khashoggi revealed an alleged classified deal between Trump and Saudi King Salman to take money from Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal—Saudi Arabia’s richest businessman—, to bail himself out of jail after being arrested for corruption in 2017.

In Saudi Arabia, the same press Khashoggi loyally served during 40 years accused him of meeting with the Emir of Qatar—a Turkey ally—and of having ties to “regional and international intelligence services.”

He was treated as a defector and that sealed his fate.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen