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World Middle East

Khashoggi’s murder and its impact on Saudi-Israel ties

  • Paula
The story of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi changes by the day. But by all accounts, it seems the 59-year-old Saudi journalist, who was once a powerful insider in his home country, was tortured, beheaded, dismembered, and his body disposed of. This happened after he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to pick up papers.
by PAULA SLIER | Oct 25, 2018

There are those who suggest Israel could have been involved, with some pundits having gone so far as to say this is a valid avenue of enquiry for investigators to pursue. However, the implications of the murder definitely have an impact on Jerusalem, Washington, Iran, and the broader Middle East.

First and foremost, it’s pushed American President Donald Trump into a corner. His much touted “deal of the century” between Israelis and Palestinians seems to have rested on the powerful Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, bringing the sides together.

Although Israel and Saudi Arabia have no formal diplomatic relations, for years, albeit in secret, Israeli officials have hinted at a growing closeness between them. Trump deliberately made his first overseas trip in May last year, first to Saudi Arabia and then to Israel – the two pillars of his foreign policy in the region.

The Saudi prince – who is commonly known as MBS – denies being behind the gruesome murder, and was reportedly shocked by the international outrage. He is said to have phoned Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jarred Kushner, who heads the American administration’s Mideast team, to ask what all the fuss was about.

On numerous occasions, Washington has referenced the “close relationship” between the two young politicians. At first glance it might seem strange, especially as Kushner is an orthodox Jew and bin Salman, a Muslim, who lives in a country where being an orthodox Jew is illegal. But they are both about the same age, ambitious, and the hidden “sons” in their respective “dynasties”.

But that close rapport has now become a liability as the Saudi prince faces serious questions about the Khashoggi murder.

Most people just don’t buy it that MBS didn’t know about the hit squad of 15 people who arrived in Istanbul on the very same day that Khashoggi was murdered. This, in a country like Saudi Arabia, where power is concentrated entirely in the hands of the king, who has delegated most of it to his son, MBS.

Trump tried to help the Saudis by giving them time to conclude an investigation, or at least come up with a good excuse about what had happened in their consulate on 2 October.

It’s not just the peace deal he was trying to save. He was also trying to rescue the billions of dollars of arms contracts signed between Riyadh and Washington, resulting in hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans.

What’s more, in less than two weeks, United States sanctions on Iran go into effect, following the cancellation of the P5 + 1 nuclear deal. Because of this, Washington needs oil from Saudi Arabia to fill the gap now left open by Tehran. By increasing production, the Saudis will also help keep gas prices down in America.

Trump was also banking on an Israeli-Saudi alliance that would have served as a regional counterweight to Iran. If there is a country that Iran hates more than Israel, it would be the Saudi kingdom. The two are regional rivals, with the Saudis being the epicentre of the Sunni world, while Iran is that of the Shias.

However, among those criticising this policy was Khashoggi. He was deeply skeptical that Israel could really help the Saudi kingdom rid the region of Iran’s growing influence. He was also outspoken against rumours that Saudi Arabia was considering closer ties to Israel.

Some depict Khashoggi as a Saudi reformer and advocate of free speech, who contributed to the Washington Post newspaper. Meanwhile, there are also an increasing number of accusations surfacing that paint him as an anti-Semite. According to some reports, he was seen to be a radical Islamist. In part, these efforts could be to lessen the pressure on Trump to punish Saudi Arabia, and help give him a way out.

In searching his official Twitter account, the Simon Wiesenthal Center discovered tweets in which Khashoggi denied any Jewish connection to the land of Israel, and claimed the Western Wall was a Muslim construction.

Josh Block, the Chief Executive of The Israel Project, said he was a “frontman” for Islamists, and a paid spook for Qatar, Turkey, and Saudi politician Turki al Faisal, whose journalism was a cover for his real work, saying, “Just as he wrapped his Islamist ideas in the flowery language of human rights, he praised Hamas and called for Israel to be destroyed by violence.”

Khashoggi frequently tweeted about Israel’s role in Syria, pointing out that Jerusalem acted in its own self-interest. He argued that Israel “kills innocents every day in Palestine”.

There has been little Israeli and Palestinian official reaction to his murder. Both sides are wary of antagonising the Saudis. But some Israeli commentators have suggested that Jerusalem may find itself having to support Riyadh more openly as it faces increasing pressure on the international stage.

Ironically, others feel that if the US loosens its ties with Saudi Arabia, the country, finding itself isolated, might look to Jerusalem for closer relations.

Right now, no-one knows what will happen. Certainly, there’ll be a lot of chest-thumping and declarations of indignation. However, as politics often reveal, what happens in the public arena is a far cry from the quiet reality.

One thing that is unlikely to change is the American administration’s hard-fist policy towards Iran. But aside from this, Trump might need to rethink some parts of his Mideast strategy. And then, again, this could all blow over, and he won’t.

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