A deathly silence has fallen inexplicably quickly in the events surrounding the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who furiously cast stones and aspersions at the Saudi kingdom, is now hush. In a speech to his parliamentary faction of supporters from the ruling Justice and Development Party, Erdogan called the operation at the Istanbul consulate a cruel, barbaric act and demanded that the Saudis reveal where Khashoggi’s body is hidden and who gave the order to kill. But after the Saudis declared, in a rather decisive hardline, that they would try those responsible themselves, Ankara and Istanbul grew quiet. Or, perhaps, they’re merely calling a timeout. On that note, it wouldn’t be bad to remind that tradition of trying criminals in their own countries to Washington — which doesn’t mind regular abductions — to drag people to the United States and try them there under American law, which doesn’t correspond to generally accepted international law.
International media reports that secretive heated talks are underway between Ankara and Riyadh to negotiate the amount of compensation owed to the Turks. It can’t be ruled out that the Saudis will make a series of concessions regarding their policy in Syria.
Speaking unequivocally, most experts are almost certain that the Saudi operation to kill Khashoggi took place in plain sight of the Turkish secret services, who controlled it from start to end, but Turkey doesn’t want to admit it. This could explain the existence of very precise audio recordings from the consulate, which were allegedly recorded by the journalist’s smart watch. The fact is, the Turkish secret services had the diplomatic facility bugged, but don’t want to admit it. This was indirectly confirmed by CIA Director Gina Haspel, who went to Turkey to hear the recording of the Saudi journalist’s torture and murder. As the long-time director of the CIA’s secret prison in Thailand who regularly attended the torture of prisoners, Haspel can reliably differentiate between a forgery and the real thing. This recording captured the murder of a journalist. This was real.
A hush has fallen over Washington, as well. After first scaring the Saudi princes, the US president changed his position, using the financial benefit to the United States as his explanation. The two-kilo gold medal the Saudis gave their ‘dear friend’ Donald Trump seems to have played a non-negligible role in this affair. That’s why it’s understandable that he told the Saudis how to behave. Americans have the benefit of experience here: punish only the ones who carried it out, not the ones who ordered it. Naturally, the aging king has long abstained from such games and the crown prince is much too busy with important affairs of state.
Now that President Trump has gotten the Saudi royal family out of hot water — even if not completely — he can expect to be handsomely rewarded for his services. First, Washington can demand that the Saudis refuse to cooperate with Moscow on oil and gas or defense matters by taking a hard anti-Russian stance.
In this case, the Saudis followed the advice of experienced American provocateurs. They arrested 18 people who will be tried in Saudi Arabia so the truth never gets out. All 18 of the scapegoats were found. First among them were those who flew to Istanbul to murder Jamal Khashoggi. 18 were arrested, as well as the consul general. Some were forced to resign, like General Ahmad Asiri, deputy director of the Saudi intelligence services. A lieutenant in the crown prince’s personal guard was even ‘accidentally’ hit and killed by a car in Riyadh. Also fired was Saud al-Qahtani, a key close advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud. He served for many years in the prince’s inner circle. His duties included defending the royal family — the crown prince among them — from attacks on social media. Media reports claim that Saud al-Qahtani was responsible for creating the army of trolls aimed at taking down the regime’s critics, such as Khashoggi. The advisor coordinated the arrests of hundreds of Saudi Arabia’s elites and even held the Lebanese prime minister captive.
According to reports, the crown prince was shocked at the world outcry in response to the killing of the oppositionist Saudi columnist for The Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal reports that, during the prince’s phone call with President Trump’s senior advisor Jared Kushner, Riyadh’s confusion over Washington’s reaction “soon turned into rage”. Specifically, he stated that “[h]e feels betrayed by the West” and threatened that Saudi Arabia would find other foreign partners elsewhere, as Ryan Costello and Sina Toosi write in Foreign Policy.
All the recent events in this case were truly unexpected for the young prince. The Saudi newspaper Al Hayat writes that hundreds of people are publicly beheaded in Saudi squares each year and here, one Saudi gets dismembered and there’s “so much noise.” The Saudis traditionally consider their acts and decisions to be an internal affair to be discussed by concealing facts and outright lying. One can be absolutely certain of this by looking at the reaction to the journalist’s death from Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Khalid bin Abulaziz Al Saud. The younger brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prince Khalid is very much a member of the royal family and a potential candidate for the royal throne in certain scenarios. This is why he was aware of all the overt and covert affairs of his older brother, who concentrated power in his hands as his father, the king, ails.
On October 9, a week after the journalist’s death, the Saudi ambassador — perfectly aware of the news, yet acting as though nothing had happened, almost mocking the tragic event — announced that the stories about the death or arrest of Saudi oppositionist journalist Jamal Khashoggi were “grim rumors”. The question arises how one can believe the official announcements of Saudi leadership when one of its members spreads a cheap lie to the whole world without blinking an eye from his post in the United States, the beacon of democracy and freedom, the ardent defender of human rights.
It’s interesting to note that British intelligence agencies were informed as early as September of the plan to kidnap the Saudi ‘oppositionist’ Jamal Khashoggi in order to prevent him from publishing information unfavorable to Riyadh. The information to be quashed concerned the use of banned chemical agents by Saudi troops in Yemen, which resulted in the deaths of many innocent civilians. The Daily Express, referencing ‘knowledgeable informants’, notes that members of the royal court planned the journalist’s forcible removal from Turkey. Their names were not revealed. And for good reason, considering that there would be too high a price to pay.
London’s agents meticulously followed the operation’s course and it’s highly likely that they helped. The British foreign intelligence agency MI-6 and counterintelligence agency MI-5 have so much experience in kidnapping and poisoning people that they would have been ideal teachers for the rather inexperienced Saudis. The newspaper reports that British intelligence detected the movement of the Saudi team responsible for the journalist’s kidnapping on October 1. The team’s members were chomping at the bit. If they couldn’t extract the journalist from Turkey, they’d kill him, having done it so many times before. The royal palace considered Jamal Khashoggi to be much more dangerous for Riyadh than a run-of-the-mill journalist unhappy with the authorities. At one point, Khashoggi was part of the inner circle of the former head of royal intelligence and was friends with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Towards the end of his life, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood. In short, he had a lot of powerful friends and knew quite a bit about a lot of people.
Newsweek’s Phyllis Bennis writes that Khashoggi’s murder wasn’t the first crime committed by America’s key allies in Saudi Arabia. And Donald Trump isn’t the first US president to stand silently looking on from the sidelines. America’s ‘red lines’ practically never apply to its allies.
Not everyone in the West is thrilled with the course of the new US president, who’s main mission in life is good accounting. Perhaps most characteristic of this discontent is an article in The New York Times by three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman, who writes: “And therefore, not as a journalist but as an American citizen, I am sickened to watch my own president and his secretary of state partnering with Saudi officials to concoct a cover story. The long-term ramifications of that for every journalist — or political critic in exile anywhere — are chilling. By the way, I don’t think they will get away with it.”
This is certainly a sort of watershed moment in American history. Will America remain, as many see it, the shining city on the hill or will it turn into a one-horse town far away from mainstream world civilization?
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.