Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in Istanbul inside the Saudi consulate on October 2 has led to multiple implications, both in short and long terms. The immediate fall out in the wake of the Khashoggi killing is the severe battering of the image of Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS), dashing his high hopes to remain afloat as a world leader or at least a leader to dominate Middle-east politics. His reputation along with that of Saudi Arabia has nosedived and his initial sparks to usher in some reforms in Saudi Arabia have all but been snuffed out.
Some of the other glaring pitfalls are directly linked to Khashoggi’s slaughter. Strangely, all 15 members of the hit squad that were dispatched from Riyadh to get rid of Khashoggi were very close to MBS and obviously their proximity to him prompted the operation which failed to come up to the standards of Mossad. The covert and offensive strike was botched from the word ‘go’ and instead exposed the evil designs of MBS to eliminate Khashoggi. Talking about confidence and trust, a member of the elite royal bodyguard corps was handpicked to control the Istanbul operation.
Intriguingly, now that things are coming into open, it has been selectively leaked by Turkish authorities that Khashoggi was cut into pieces by the most trusted confidante of MBS, Saudi forensic department head Salah Mohammad Al Tubaigi, preceded by severe torture inflicted when Khassoggi was still alive. Such was the determination of the Saudi royalty to get rid of a vociferous critic of the regime. Now that things are out, Saudi Arabia in general and MBS in particular are in a tight spot threatened with chances of being ostracised.
As regards the approach of the global community, almost all countries have started distancing themselves. President Trump who was intially not keen to criticise the kiling by blaming the Saudis, is facing heat from within his own country. A few Congressmen have already mounted intense pressure on the Trump administration to cancel the billion dollar military deal and reset ties with the kingdom. Coincidentally, German foreign minister Heiko Mass cancelled his scheduled official trip to Riyadh unless Saudi Arabia comes clean on the murder. Similar steps were taken by Federic Oudea, Chief Executive of the French bank Societe Generale and BNP Paribas Chairman Jean Lemierre. Clearly, the pressure is mounting to the extent that US Treasury Secretary Steve Munchin did not appear to be particularly keen to proceed to Riyadh on a scheduled conference although he did do so.
With growing isolation, King Salman is believed to be seriously considering pruning MBS’s unbridled powers and if it is done, the ambitious and power-hungry Prince will have to function with wings clipped. His detractors and the world at large are incensed at his extreme act. It is unthinkable that a person of the rank of a serving Major General, Ahmed Al Assiri, the deputy chief of the Saudi Intelligence was assigned the responsibility of the ‘trigger team” which undrtook the operation with the primary task of kidnapping Khashoggi to Riyadh and silence him for ever.
From the sequence of happenings, it would appear that Saudi Arabia is still living in medieval ages and brutally applying archaic laws with total indifference to human values. MBS had appointed Saud Al Qahtani as the media advisor launching media offensives to counter any anti-Saudi propaganda with brute force. An Italy trained hacking team was in place to penetrate the cyber space of thousands of anti-Saudi elements. Meanwhile, in order to do some damage control, the King is said to be axing Qahtani and Gen Assiri.
Now that the arch villain of the murder plot is unmasked and Saudi Arabia stands exposed with pressure coming from all sides, its principal adversary Turkey emerges as the net gainer for the fact that it has vital clues and evidence. Erdogan being a shrewd and tough negotiator, the US will have to amend its foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia and Turkey. It would be equally interesting to see how things shape up regarding Iran. Erdogan will now assert himself in the region with ferocity.
What is to be seen is if Saudi Arabia stops or reduces its bullying tactics towards Qatar and Yemen by indiscriminately killing Houthi rebels. It has to lie low and Turkey under Erdogan would also like to see whether export of Wahabbism and Salafism from Riyadh takes a back seat, albeit for the time being.
Khashoggi’s columns in the Washington Post and the response to his slaying would, in the meantime, continue to haunt MBS and his cohorts to go slow in their tirade against dissenting voices.
The writer, a former IPS officer, is a security analyst and columnist on topical issues. The views are personal.