The most interesting aspect of the botched assassination of Jamal Khashoggi is the insight it creates into political conflicts in U.S. domestic and international policies.
The Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman unwittingly did a huge favor to Turkey's president Erdogan when he send a crew to abduct or kill Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan is in a historic geopolitical conflict with Saudi Arabia over supremacy in the Middle East.
The Turks had the Saudi consulate bugged. Every country in the world tries to plant listening devices into foreign embassies and consulates. It is no surprise then that the Turks know what happened within the consulate and use the evidence to squeeze the Saudis. Erdogan knows how to play the media and does his very best to drag out the story. He will press the Saudis for financial and political gains.
On Monday the White House floated the idea that a 'rogue killer' was responsible for the ghastly deed in Istanbul. Trump himself led the campaign:
President Donald Trump on Monday repeatedly highlighted the Saudi King's denial of involvement in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, at one point offering up an alternative theory that "rogue killers," rather than agents of the Saudi regime, were involved.
U.S. media made it seem as if the Saudis were flying that test ballon. But the Saudis rejected it way out. They say, to this day, that they are not aware that anything happened in their consulate at all. It was likely Netanyahoo's errand-boy in the White House, Jared Kushner, who floated the 'rogue killer' tale:
A senior Trump administration official said Kushner has a close relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the Saudi throne, and the pair have been in direct phone conversations about Khashoggi. These calls have been part of a White House push to get Saudi Arabia to participate in an investigation into Khashoggi's case.
Anyway - the ballon was filled with lead. Erdogan had already made sure that such a story would not fly.
This site reported on Wednesday October 10 that the men the Turks had identified were directly related to the clown prince:
The Turkish government published pictures of 15 men who had come from Saudi Arabia and were in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi visited it to get his divorce papers. They moved Khashoggi to the residence of the consul and later that day flew back on the same two private Saudi jets that had brought them to Istanbul.
At least 8 of the 15 men have been identified as Saudi royal military. At least three are bodyguards of the Saudi clown prince Mohammad bin Salman. It is thereby obvious that the clown prince himself gave the order for the operation. One of the 15 isDr. Salah Muhammed Al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic evidence at the Saudi General Security Department.
It took the U.S. media a week to explain to their readers that the killers are part of MbS' personal entourage. Today the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post finally put the above 'news' onto their frontpages.
Why did the media held back on this so for so long?
After the Saudis rejected the 'rogue' fairytale. Trump stepped back from it and points to the lack of any confession:
President Donald Trump launched a concerted defense of Saudi Arabia for the disappearance and suspected murder of Jamal Khashoggi, saying the country's crown prince "totally denied" knowledge about the suspected death of the Washington Post journalist and complaining that the country was being assumed "guilty until proven innocent."
This is fully in line with the Saudi strategy. They do not admit anything, not even something 'rogue'. They do not want to make a deal - yet. When Secretary of State visited yesterday they did did not even talk about the publicly known facts:
Reporter: Did they say that Khashoggi was alive or dead?
Secretary Pompeo: I don't want to talk about any of the facts. They didn't want to either.
They Saudis only promised to investigate themselves.
Some people seem to believe that the Turks somehow vanished Khashoggi and fabricated the evidence. But there has been no explanation by the Saudis or anyone else for the two Saudi jets, owned by the king, that were tracked flying to Istanbul and left the same day to return to Riyadh.
Flight data collected by AirNavRadarBox, a firm that tracks private and commercial planes all over the world, showed that the first of the two planes left Riyadh late Oct. 1 and touched down in Istanbul the following day at 3:15 a.m.
Flight data shows that a second private jet, believed by investigators to be transporting the rest of the team, touched down in Istanbul at 5:15 p.m. It is unclear whether those on board traveled to either the consulate or the residence. It departed an hour and 15 minutes after it arrived, heading for Cairo. Twenty-five hours after its arrival in Cairo, the plane left for Riyadh.
There are also hotel records and CCTV video showing the Saudi team. There is no way Turkey could have faked all of this. The Saudi government made no serious attempt to explain why these people, including the clown prince's personal body guards, flew to Istanbul and were in the consulate when Khashoggi entered it. MbS also had a motive. Khashoggi was a Muslim Brotherhood and intelligence asset that had turned into a mouthpiece for the internal opposition against the Salmans.
MbS is the first Saudi ruler who broke the families rules of consultation and monopolized the decision making. He jailed and tortured other princes to rob them of their money. The people MbS hurt were talking to Khashoggi who had a public perch at the Washington Post to vent their grievances:
[Prince] Ahmed was appalled at the destructive nature of MbS' policies and his recklessness. [..] Jamal Khashoggi knew this. While it spoke volumes about his agreeable nature, it also sometimes was a curse that senior royals liked to sound off to him.
There are other Saudi royals out there, less in seniority to Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, yet also sons and nephews of kings. It is their reaching out to Jamal, relayed to MbS by his fawning apparatchiks, that created an incendiary environment in his office and led to that death warrant.
That explanation makes sense. One of the Saudis identified in Istanbul was Maher Abdilaziz Mutreb, a body guard who is regularly seen traveling with MbS. In 2011 Mutreb was trained in the use of spy software by the Italian surveillance malware vendor Hacking Team. He is one of MbS' 'fawning apparatchiks' who spy on other royals and their contacts to journalists in the west.
We can lay the conspiracy theory that Erdogan faked the incident to rest. He was simply lucky that MbS was stupid enough to let his hapless bodyguards kill Khashoggi in Turkey, where he had top connections to an anti-Saudi ruler who did not hesitate to escalate the issue into a larger conflict.
After the Saudis rejected the 'rogue killer' plot and the first attempt of a deal failed, the well managed bit by bit revelations from Turkey restarted. Erdogan wants to make sure that the story stays on the frontpages until he gets his deal. Yesterday evening anonymous Turkish officials started to brief reporters about the content of the tape they have of the incident:
It took seven minutes for Jamal Khashoggi to die, a Turkish source who has listened in full to an audio recording of the Saudi journalist's last moments told Middle East Eye.
Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department, was one of the 15-member squad who arrived in Ankara earlier that day on a private jet.
Tubaigy began to cut Khashoggi's body up on a table in the study while he was still alive, the Turkish source said.
The killing took seven minutes, the source said.
As he started to dismember the body, Tubaigy put on earphones and listened to music. He advised other members of the squad to do the same.
"When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too," Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the source told MEE.
The described scene proves that the Saudis are very 'moderate', even kuffaar (unbelievers) in the eye of extreme Islamists. As an experience Middle East correspondent snarked:
Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai
I tell you what is the difference between #ISIS & #SaudiArabia practice:
- #ISIS will never listen to music while beheading & dismembering their victim
- #SaudiArabia, due to the moderate reformer MBS, listen to Music while cutting the body of #Khashoggi
Parts of the audio tape were handed over to a Turkish outlet but are not yet public. They will be released when it fits Erdogan's strategy.
Yesterday the Turkish police tried to search the residence of the Saudi consul in Istanbul. The killer team went there after they left the consulate. The police assumes that Khashoggi's body, or its parts, are buried in the residency's garden. But the consul left unexpectedly to Riyadh and warned that the residency is under diplomatic protection. The police has no right to search it without Saudi consent.
Secretary of State Pompeo tries his best to negotiate between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. His task is to limit the damage the incident does to the house of Saud and especially to MbS. But the Saudis stonewalled, while Erdogan played the tape to him.
As longer the dealing takes, the more gruesome will be the details dripped from Turkish sources.
The backlash against the Saudis in U.S. media and in Congress will only increase.The incident has international consequences. The managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, announced that she will not attend next week's Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh. She follows a long list of CEOs and media moguls who canceled their attendance. The foreign ministers of the G7 issued a statement demanding an investigation. The scandal is bad for the future of Saudi Arabia's economy. The mood in Riyadh is fraught.
The Washington Post, for which Khashoggi wrote opinion pieces, will not let go of the issue. Nor will other U.S. media.
Everyone but Trump wants to see MbS leave. Even Senator Graham Lindsay, a warmongering ally of Donald Trump, promises to get rid of Mohammad bin Salman:
"I'm not going back to Saudi Arabia as long as this guy is in charge," Graham said of bin Salman. "I've been their biggest defender on the floor of the United States Senate. This guy is a wrecking ball. He had [Khashoggi] murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused. The MBS figure is to me toxic, he can never be a world leader on the world stage."
"It's up to the president, but what I would do - Well, I know what I'm going to do. I'm gonna sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia," Graham added when asked if Trump should impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia.
One wonders what Graham's motives are. On several issues - Iran, Israel, Syria - MbS is fully in line with his policies. Who then is lobbying him to work against MbS? It is not the Zionist lobby. The Israelis surely want to keep MbS as they can play him like a fiddle.
Could the United Arab Emirates and their current strongman Mohammed bin Zayed be behind Graham's stand?
While MbZ is publicly a dear friend of MbS, both have recently clashed in their common attack on Yemen. MbS wants the Yemeni oil fields, a pipeline from Saudi Arabia through west Yemen, and a port where Saudi oil can be shipped from without passage through the Iran controlled Street of Hormuz.
But the ports of Yemen are the bounty MbZ wants to win for Dubai Port World which is "one of the instruments of [the UAE's] global affirmation strategy." He wants to control all of the Yemeni coast and all of its islands. The clash between Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen is obvious for the people on the ground. The UAE even hired U.S. mercenaries to kill off locals leaders belonging to the Islah party which is a Saudi assets.
It is the UAE and its ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba who spend more on lobbying Washington than any other Arab country - at least $21.3 million in 2017. There are connections between UAE lobbying and Lindsay Graham through Elliott Broidy who also raised funds for Trump's election campaign.
A major Trump foreign policy is the new sanction regime against Iran. But without extra oil pumped by the Saudis the new sanctions on Iranian oil, which go into effect in early November, will increase oil prices and tank the U.S. economy.
It seems that MbS decided to sit out the storm over his murder of Khashoggi. He can pressure Trump by holding back oil exports. Trump would probably like to follow that strategy, if only to avoid any oil shortages. But the domestic and international pressure seems to become too big. As Erdogan continues the drip by drip release of sensational evidence and the Washington Post piles on, Trump will have to do something more than sending Pompeo for useless talks.
Stopping all U.S. support for the war on Yemen would be good start.
But it would not be enough. MbS needs to be removed.
The Trump administration has no ambassador in Saudi Arabia. The White House connection to the Saudi rulers ran solely through the Kushner-MbS phone-line. But that line is now useless. Trump will need to send someone who has good relations with the King himself. Only he can remove the clown prince. The King is 82 years old and not in good health. MbS might well be ruthless enough to suddenly let him die. Trump will have to act as soon as possible.
Posted by b on October 17, 2018