10 December 2018

The inheritance of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi

Niculae Iancu

Even after a month since Saudi journalist’s, Jamal Khashoggi, disappearance, who was murdered inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate from Istanbul, the subject remains as important as it was in the very first day. Despite the fact that the authorities are far from solving all the unknowns, like murder’s causes and, especially, consequences, we can already talk about the impact this tragic event had over Middle East’s entire security, but also about the effects it had in the larger plan of the relations between the main actors with major interests in the region.

Image source: Mediafax
  1. Stopping Crown Prince’s accession, Mohammed bin Salman, as regional leader and future champion of a more united Arab world.

The political and social reforms, with liberal tendency, that he started in a strongly conservative society, marked by deep canonical accents, created for the crown prince, the de facto leader of Saudi’s regime, the image of a reformer whose state was slowly becoming, in the eyes of the entire Occident, possible future kingpin of Arab’s world, and even of the entire Islamic one.

Riyadh’s internal policy’s “positive changes”, as Jamal Khashoggi himself was describing it, although it can be truly diffident comparing it with Western democracy goals, it shortly became Mohammed bin Salman’s trump card in negotiating Washington and European chanceries’ political support for his aims as regional leader. Khashoggi’s violent death, though officially untied with Salman’s regime highest responsibility level, have created serious suspicions in western capitals, regarding Riyadh’s promises’ honesty and commitments for placing his policies, methods and strategies along with human rights and individual liberties, as essential premises to establish and reform the hottest region of the world.

  1. Emphasizing the breaches between the main regional actors in a more and more divided Middle East

Murdering Jamal Khashoggi on Turkish territory, opened, cynically, an opportunity window for Ankara’s regime, often accused for breaking human’s rights and harassing some journalists, especially after the failed coup d’état from July 2016. The disappearance moment could not be more complicated for president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The tensions between Turkey and its NATO allies, which appeared after Ankara’s glazes from North-Atlantic Treaty democracy fundamental principles and then amplified by the anti-western rhetoric of President Erdogan, led to the weakening of the Turkey’s relationship with the majority of European capitals and Washington D.C.

The  sensation of Turkey’s rapprochement with Moscow, at least in managing the crisis from Syria, but also through opening some cooperation possibilities in military domain, materialized in complex Russian missiles systems acquisition, despite NATO’s political commitments and interoperability standards, only increased the breaches and spread the distrust between parts, with Turkey’s predictable outcome by entering in a financial crisis, marked by the galloping inflation and a huge external deficit.

In these circumstances, the perspective of a new crisis in the relation with Saudi Arabia, one of the major investors in Turkey, with a total of more than $1 billion in 2017, according to dates published by Al Arabiya, it firstly seemed difficult to be managed in Ankara. But Erdogan bet on doubling the stake, aiming for bigger and on long-term winnings. Already being known the tensions between the two regimes, which came out, for example, in the Qatari crisis, Turkish part’s game seems to point out the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, as the culpable for a “premeditation crime”.

This happened initially by leaking information from the inside of Turkish authorities’ investigation so that, further, president Erdogan to make direct allegations against Riyadh, in a speech he held in front of the Parliament, wherein he mentioned that “the order came from the highest responsibility level of Saudi’s government” and that “certain officials tried to cover the murder”, as The Washington Post detains. All of this aside, we expect Ankara to try to avoid freezing the relations with Riyadh, by forcing a closeness with king Salman, this way aiming to upkeep the Saudi investments flux towards Turkey.

Furthermore, liberating, at the same time, the American pastor, Andrew Brunson, from the house arrest wherein he was detained for terrorism allegations, firmly demanded by the United States, can have a double interpretation: reopening the dialogue and cooperation with Washington, but also challenging Trump’s Administration by putting some pressure in Khashoggi’s case, which will only prove that in issues about human rights it does not operate with multiple measures.

Regardless of the perspective, Turkey definitely made it to stab the yataghan in relation’s restraint between Washington and Riyadh, waiting for the winnings this hit will have, considering the historical rivalry it has with the Saudis, in the competition for power and influence inside the Islamic world. If the hit will turn out to be just a scratch, Turkey could also risk to suffer the consequences of prince Salman’s possible reprisals, starting with blocking the financial investments, up to an active opposition in regional interests’ conflict.

  1. Reactivating the debates regarding convergence’s strength of West and Saudi Arabia’s vital security interests in Middle East.

Interrogating again the fundamental premises of regional security analysis definitely must begin, first of all, from validating continuity of some common strategic interests’ of North Atlantic’s space in Middle East, considering breaches intensification between the United States and Europe on substantial regional topics, like the Iranian nuclear file, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict evolution, the relation with Ankara or the weaponry trade.

Despite all of these, the common denominator of liberal democracy values is still offering enough arguments for an evaluation, in the traditional binominal Western-Eastern paradigm of the inflexion points of some major interests in the region, like: ensuring West’s access, firstly United States’ one, at Saudi oil and gases resources, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, mostly the nuclear weapons proliferation in a an area wherein the financial resources would not be at all an impediment; preventing the apparition of some power vacuum, which would create the maneuver space to raise some terrorist organizations; and Western’s involvement in balancing the regional power, in the detriment of some supposed hostile regimes, like the one from Teheran.

With the international crisis created by Khashoggi’s disappearance, critics’ voices regarding the support of Riyadh’s hard foreign policy reached unseen limits in Washington, in the public space often existing some messages like the one that the humanitarian disaster from Yemen it is too ingrained by the syntagma “made in the United States”, written on the bombs launched during the Saudi-led coalition military operations. The feeling is that Washington does not seem opened to unconditionally support Salman’s regime foreign policy, and the economical factor, being energetically, of infrastructure or arms trade, is not a set argument for tolerating any glazes from the principles wherewith the United States are accompanying their cooperation and partnership offer around the world, synonymous, implicitly, with offering trust and legitimacy.

  1. Revealing the hidden vulnerabilities in the brushwood of security interests’ multiple interdependencies in managing punctual crisis, even the major ones

The political murder inside the Saudi consulate from Istanbul led to creating a bipartisan consensus in Washington- harder and harder to get assembled during times when disunion and policies of hate are embracing the entire world- in convicting the Saudi government, seen as culpable for the outcome of the “criminal operation”, wherefrom it should have some severe consequences. Still, at least until now, Trump’s Administration had an “extremely limited” attitude, as the press across the ocean calls it, considering, apparently, the sanction of some inferior level Saudi responsible, with direct involvement in assassinate.

From the interpretation of the proofs which are available until now, apparently, prince Mohammed bin Salman will not suffer United States’ repressive measures, and one of the explanations would be american officials’ concern that “any type of punitive actions against Riyadh’s governors would complicate more United States’ policy in the Iranian file”, as Foreign Affairs writes down. One of the meanings of this evaluation is offered by the Iranian hydrocarbons export, starting with the 5th of November. Furthermore, such an evolution, would lead to accentuating the conflicts between the United States and its European allies, which will be forced to undermine the american embargo imposed to Iran, to protect their own interests. The consequence will be putting Trump’s Administration in the unfortunate situation to sanction its own allies, considering that the uncertainties regarding the future of common security, constantly increased from Washington, significantly got accentuated in the last period.

We must not forget that Riyadh already sent on local media channels a warning wherefrom it comes out that they could use “oil weapon” if the Saudi regime will suffer Trump’s Administration consequences, up to calling on the impossible hypothesis of “reconciliating with Iran” to face some eventual pressures coming from Washington. Even at the end of a long set of events, these will result to be simple speculations, but being very probable for the involved parts, United States, its European allies and Saudi Arabia, to suffer some economic, political and huge image prejudices, the only possible winner being Teheran, which is already accessing in the regional plan, after its participation at the war in Syria and its involvement in all the insecurity outbreaks from the entire Middle East, wherefore it is not seen any improvement perspectives of field’s situations.

Corollary. As I did not want to garble the direct causality relation of region’s evolutions with Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination, seen from Washington-Riyadh-Ankara triangle perspective, considering journalist’s American residence, his Saudi nationality and the territory the crime happened, I only conjectural mentioned Russia, Iran and Israel, which are extremely important regional actors for any security analysis of the Middle East. All of this aside, we can conclude that Khashoggi’s disappearance brought back the deepest concerns, uncertainties and incongruences which are rummaging, for centuries, region’s security. This dramatic event, which came from nowhere, revealed main actors’ in the region vulnerabilities, showed politicians’ shortcoming and their actions in shaping the regional security architecture, questioned the viability of some, supposedly coherent, regional security scenarios and created the concern that any set of solutions of Middle East’s security equation will reveal only negative results, for the involved parts.

In these circumstances, maybe the most profound inheritance Jamal Khashoggi left is that the Arab world needs, more than ever, the implementation of some consistent and tenable policies, to ensure freedom of expression’s guarantee, as fundamental principle for real internal debate of the issues that it is facing today and for being open towards common solutions, with structural and duplicator potential, that the West does not have the capacity and, probably, neither the legitimacy to impose it from the outside.