Mystery still surrounds the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who resided in the US and was an outspoken critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Khashoggi’s differences with the kingdom stemmed primarily from the political reforms of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and most notably, the Prince’s negative stance on the Muslim Brotherhood. It appears that he was murdered inside the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul where he visited to retrieve some divorce documents so he could marry a Turkish woman. The Saudi’s deny it, but there is video evidence of a Saudi team arriving in Istanbul just prior to Khashoggi’s arrival. The team landed in a private jet where soon after there was multiple vehicle activity around the embassy. This was all captured by video evidence as was Khashoggi’s entry into the embassy; however, there is no video evidence of him ever leaving.
Khashoggi’s outspokenness eventually led him to leave the Saudi Kingdom and come to the United States where he became a writer for the Washington Post. Because of his outspokenness against the Saudi rulers, he had a justified fear for his safety if he were to return to Saudi Arabia even though the political order in Saudi Arabia encouraged him to return and be a part of the political discourse. Politics occurring within the kingdom caused him to leave and reside in the United States where where he became an opinion writer for the Washington Post. He has not been seen since he entered the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul last week. The Turks are claiming to have video and audio evidence of his “assassination” within the embassy. And they are claiming that the evidence comes from the transmissions of Khashoggi’s Apple Watch. Questionable.
There are three important developments resulting from the suspected murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government.
1. This puts a strain on current U.S. Saudi relations at a time when Saudi Arabia announced they were open for business and foreign investment. The U.S. is close to signing a $100+ billion weapons deal with the Saudis. The Saudis and U.S. are united in their stance against Iran and need each other strategically to keep Iran in check. The U.S. is also banking on the reformed Saudi kingdom being a partner for peace with Israel in the region.
2. If it is proven that the Saudi’ are responsible for Khashoggi’s death, there will certainly have to be consequences for the Saudi government. In a recent article by the Washington Examiner, David Miller, a veteran former senior official who has worked on the Democratic and Republican administrations, states:
“It’s not clear what the administration could do to impose an effective punishment for Khashoggi’s disappearance. “There is no action we could take, that we will take — or, frankly, that we should take that I would recommend to you is going to fundamentally constrain or restrain the Saudis from acting…We just won’t do it. And I don’t know what that action would be. We’re not going to sever our ties with Saudi Arabia. We won’t do that. We won’t join an international call for prosecuting MBS as a war criminal. We’re not going to do that.”
3. Implications for Turkish- U.S. relations: The relationship between long time strategic partners Turkey and the United States have been very strained in recent years. The government of Tayyip Erdogan has slowly but surely cracked down on Turkish freedoms and has distanced his country from western, especially United States cooperation. Turkey has long been considered an extremely important country, strategically, for the United States. This week has seen the release of Pastor Andrew Brunson from house arrest in Turkey and cooperation with the investigation of Khashoggi’s disappearance with Turkey potentially willing to compromise their surveillance methods and tactics for the sake of the investigation. Both countries desire better relations, and this week has seen more cooperation between the two countries than has occurred for years.
The long term implications of a Saudi journalist’s apparent death in the Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey have yet to be realized.