From the observation that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman controls substantive decision-making in Saudi Arabia, to the fact that most of the killing team were members of his security entourage, not long ago in the US assessment of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder that was not already known to observers.
But the report’s release, along with growing vocal opposition to the Yemen war and President Joe Biden’s insistence on speaking with King Salman instead of the young MBS, signals a new era in US-Saudi relations – a era that could change strategic calculations in the Middle East.
“There are a lot of contingents in Washington who want to not only sanction MBS because they think he is a danger, but to dissuade other tyrants from thinking they can get away with murder,” he said. said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab. World Now, an organization founded by Khashoggi before his death.
“There is also a contingent of people who want to reassess the US relationship with Saudi Arabia with a big question mark as to what we get out of it,” she said. “Then there are others who are related to business as usual with narrow blinders who think it might be unrealistic to punish MBS.”
Much of the substance of the Bureau of National Intelligence Directorate’s four-page report, released on Friday, has already been leaked to Washington reporters, or assumed by lawmakers and others with knowledge of its contents. It did not contain any new facts, nor any reference to intercepts or intelligence reports, although some officials suggested that a longer declassified document would be released later.
“The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the kingdom and widely supported violent measures if necessary to silence him,” the report said, without revealing how he knew exactly Prince Mohammed’s intentions. “Although Saudi officials pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi, we don’t know how long in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.”
In candid moments, even loyalist interlocutors for the prince have described the gruesome 2018 murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul as a kidnapping gone wrong. The plan was not to kill the outspoken Washington post journalist, they said, but to take him against his will in a private jet and bring him back to Saudi Arabia where he could be questioned and subjected to torture – as if it were better.
“There is nothing here that has not been said before and absolutely no guns,” Ali Shihabi, a Saudi businessman and frequent advocate for the crown prince, said in a tweet.
But experts say it’s the act of releasing the report that signals a change. While former President Donald Trump has celebrated the Saudi regime as the closest to allies and even his predecessor Barack Obama has pleased the kingdom by supporting its disastrous offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Biden administration can herald a deep degradation of Saudi importance.
Even the Trump administration has imposed sanctions on co-conspirators listed as members of the killing team that targeted Khashoggi. The report now paves the way for sanctions against Prince Mohammed, and potentially the freezing of his assets abroad.
The Biden administration has already suspended what it has described as offensive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, although defensive arms sales continue.
The US position is complicated by the influence of Israel and the United Arab Emirates – which see Riyadh as a key ally against Iran – and the arms industry, which sells billions of weapons to the wealthy kingdom in petroleum.
A similar dynamic is operating in the UK, according to Amrit Singh of the Open Society Justice Initiative.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab “is there saying that human rights are at the center of British politics,” she said in an online briefing. “Meanwhile, the UK has resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia and sold it $ 1.4 billion in arms.
“The UK government seems to be talking on both sides of its mouth. There is this rhetorical commitment to hold human rights violations accountable. But on the other hand, there are these arms sales.
The possibility of an increasingly radical shift in U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia is rooted in geopolitical shifts. America’s dependence on oil pumped from wells in the Arabian Peninsula has declined dramatically. And the Biden administration has made it clear that it intends to prioritize re-establishing strong relations with long-standing European allies that were unraveled during the Trump years, as well as a rotation to Asia with the aim of confront China and strengthen its partnerships with the countries of the Pacific. Eight of US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s first 25 overseas calls after his confirmation were from Asia-Pacific countries, and none were from Saudi Arabia.
By pinning Khashoggi’s murder squarely on Prince Mohammed, the report also adds pressure on Saudi Arabia as it moves from the reign of King Salman to his son, a move that other factions of the Saudi monarchy are making. Aggressive 35 worried – one year is unstable and dangerous.
“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has exercised absolute control over the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations,” the report states without reservation.
Prior to Khashoggi’s murder, MBS visited the United States where he was celebrated by captains of industry and entertainment as the young face of a new Saudi Arabia. The report will only reinforce its toxicity and embolden its detractors.
“He was the darling of Silicon Valley; he was hanging out with Oprah Winfrey, and what was he going to do? Butcher Jamal Khashoggi, ”Ms. Whiston said. “Every slice of lost income, every bad drop of ink is a direct result of his clumsy sadism. It is a handicap.
Insiders describe a struggle in Washington between those who punish Prince Mohammed and those who advocate for the status quo, an impetus reflected in conflicting public statements that have been released since the January 20 inauguration. But Congress is clearly fed up with Prince Mohammed, and a consensus that includes both Democrats and Republicans seems ready to act.
Ms Whitson noted that Prince Mohammed’s provocative actions against dissidents abroad continued even after the public outcry following Khashoggi’s murder.
“The real message is that the Saudi people and King Salman have a very short window to spare their country and their people further humiliation, scandal and pariah status,” Ms. Whitson said. “If MBS becomes king, Saudi Arabia’s pariah status becomes permanent. The problem is, he’s a sadist, a foolish bully who can’t control himself.
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