Journo Khashoggi murdered? Dismembered? Saudi embassy drama dents US geo-strategy in W. Asia | Sunday Observer

Journo Khashoggi murdered? Dismembered? Saudi embassy drama dents US geo-strategy in W. Asia

As often in human affairs, the errant crony is the undoing of the patron. The horrifying murder of a high profile, dissident journalist allegedly committed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, has shocked the region and the world and, threatens a long-cosy strategic intimacy between the Western powers and Riyadh.

The seemingly blatant ‘execution’ inside an official diplomatic facility in a major city of NATO member Turkey has severely embarrassed Washington and could limit the United States’ ability to use Riyadh as a key ally in West Asia, especially, as a counter to Iran.

What happened over the past fortnight in Istanbul, that fabled city between East and West, is replete with all the mystery, drama, secrecy and the hint of gory violence of a high-octane spy thriller.

Jamal Khashoggi, a wealthy, well-connected, Saudi Arabian news publisher-turned-dissident activist, had fled the Kingdom in 2017 due to his strongly critical reportage of the Saudi monarchy, especially, of the role of young Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is now virtually the upstart (just 32 years old) ruler of the Kingdom.

After getting sacked successively for using publications he headed to criticise both the Saudi Crown Prince as well as the Wahabbi Islamic theology, Khashoggi reportedly attempted to form a new political party and then had to flee the country.

Born in Medina in 1958 and completing his Business Degree in Indiana, USA, Khashoggi is part of a rich family with one uncle, the late Adnan Khashoggi, known as a billionaire arms dealer with links to the CIA. Khashoggi’s grandfather was Muhammad Khashoggi, one-time personal physician to King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founder of the Saudi monarchy. Jamal Khashoggi’s cousin, Dodi Fayed, was the lover of Britain’s Princess Diana and was killed together with her in the 1997 car crash in Paris.

He is known to have interviewed Al Quaeda leader Osama Bin Laden several times and is believed to have been close to the Saudi intelligence services at one time.

Khashoggi had previously avoided seemingly innocuous invitations by Saudi representatives for dialogue – because he feared kidnapping and rendition back to Riyadh. But clearly, love blinds and motivates. Wanting to complete procedures for marriage with his Turkish fiancée, on October 2, Khashoggi made the fatal error of going to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain necessary legal documentation for the purpose.

His fiancée stayed outside the small consulate for hours but he never came out.

Later, street security camera footage leaked by the Turkish authorities to the Turkish news media, showed Khashoggi walking into the consulate doorway. There is no record of his ever coming out, although the Saudi government officially insists that he had left the consulate premises.

An outraged Turkish government demanded that the Saudi government show proof of Khashoggi’s departure, but Riyadh’s excuse is that surveillance cameras inside the consulate were only geared for real-time monitoring and did not record the visuals.

Meanwhile, the Turkish security authorities have produced further security camera footage showing the sudden arrival of some 15 men in two successive private jet flights direct from Riyadh just hours before Khashoggi entered the consulate for his appointment. Khashoggi had arranged to visit the consulate at that time to obtain marriage clearance documentation (he was a divorcee and needed proof of divorce).

While Khashoggi was never seen again, those 15 Saudi agents were later seen on camera hurriedly departing for the airport in a convoy of vans.

News media in Turkey and in the West are now reporting that undisclosed Turkish intelligence sources were claiming that they had audio and video recordings of activity inside the consulate by cameras presumably secretly positioned for espionage purposes.

Apparently, the recordings depict the seizure, torture and killing of Khashoggi soon after he entered the consulate. His body is believed to have been dismembered by the Saudi team before being disposed of.

Western capitals are now reacting in horror at the sheer barbarity of the killing – although there is yet no proof and investigations are on-going. The Saudi government is now preparing for a joint probe together with Turkey. No permission has yet been granted for the Turkish police authorities to enter the consulate in order to verify that no crime has been committed.

Ankara, obviously cannot officially acknowledge that it has surveillance cameras and microphones positioned inside the consulate or focused on the building from nearby.

President Donald Trump took nearly a week before persistent news media questioning compelled him to acknowledge the mysterious disappearance of the prominent activist-journalist and add his voice to the growing chorus calling for accountability.

Significantly, at the same time Trump has ruled out any rush to act to punish Riyadh arguing that Washington could not easily alienate such an important ally.

Despite being created by the Western powers ever since the defeat of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) during the First World War, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been an embarrassment to the ‘liberal’ Western alliance.

Nevertheless, all major Western powers from assiduously cultivating this prima donna of the Arab-Islamic world and leading oil power, benefitted from Riyadh’s appetite for flashy life-style and modern armaments.

With their main ally, expansionist Israel, isolated in West Asia, the Western powers so needed the Saudi monarchy as their agent within the Arab world that they have been more than happy to deal with Riyadh whatever the number of public stoning, whipping, and beheading the Saudis indulge in.

While in the immediate post-World War 2 decades the West needed the Saudi oil supplies, and cheaply too, today, both North America and Europe are no longer dependent on West Asian oil, although they are happy to grab a share of the largesse generated by the West Asian oil fields.

But, to the affluent and urbane West, the plush halls of diplomacy should be distant from bloody battlefields and covert murder, especially, of a gory kind.

Whether Tel Aviv or Riyadh or Manila or, for that matter, Brasilia or other former seats of dictatorships, their Western power backers always wanted the dirty stuff kept to the jungles or side streets (as would any pretentious patrons of violent hegemony).

Istanbul may no longer be the capital of an empire (as it was under the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans), but it has remained a metropolitan jewel located at the cusp between Europe and Asia, a city of legend and tourism delights.

For a seemingly gory torture cum murder cum dismemberment to occur in diplomatic consular chambers in such urban centre is repugnant to Western sensibilities.

And, if the sheer brazenness of such violence in hallowed diplomatic territory was not bad enough, to have their closest Arab ally behave so ‘primitively’ in the precincts of one of their key NATO member states (Turkey), severely discredits the intimate collaboration the Western powers maintain with Riyadh.

Given a history of centuries of dominance of the Arab Peninsula, The Levant, and Persian Gulf littoral by empires expanding out of the Anatolian Peninsula (now, largely non-Arab, Turkey), relations between Ankara and the mainly Arab, West Asian states, have always been one of caution and suspicion.

Ankara’s membership of NATO and expressed aspirations to join the European Union, have added to the suspicion in Arab capitals.

Not to be outdone, Turkey, has always maintained good relations with the other major non-Arab power in the region, Iran.

The ethnic affinities are a useful basis for the Ankara-Tehran axis, which, in recent years has tightened, given Turkey’s growing cultural estrangement from the West. Indeed, given Israel’s own previous co-operation with Turkey against Syria, there has been a complex, rivalry-cum-collaboration four-way regional power equation between Tehran, Ankara, Riyadh and Tel Aviv.

The obvious clumsiness of the Istanbul consulate incident has severely discredited the Saudi monarchy more than ever before.

It is highly unlikely that Washington or any other major Western power would react strongly against Riyadh simply because of the disappearance of one dissident journalist.

But, the severe discrediting of the Saudi monarchy means that it becomes more difficult for the West to conveniently use Riyadh as its agent in West Asia.

Meanwhile, the world awaits the latest development in this tragic drama.