The uproar over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul October 2 is obviously the biggest story in the world right now and though Israel is maintaining a strategic silence so as not to hurt its new ally, responses to the outrage in the U.S. are not all ideological, or ascribable to the Israel lobby.
The thrust of American mainstream commentary on the case appears to be: the murder is too much to swallow, but Saudi Arabia is too valuable an ally to lose, given the US-Israeli-Saudi alliance against Iran and the Saudi role of imposing a possible “deal” on the Palestinians. So Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman needs to get out of the way.
Israel is already a big loser in the fallout from the murder, as it is throwing shade on Israel’s rightwing friends, including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and Mideast negotiator and counterpart of bin Salman.
Here’s a roundup of mainstream opinion. Republican Congressman Peter King takes the rightwing line on ABC’s This Week. We can move past this, if only for the sake of Israel.
I would ask the president to try to thread the needle here, one to — whether it involves imposing sanctions, whether it involves delaying arms sales, making a clear statement of condemnation at the end but still not hurt ourselves…
Because the Saudis do provide very effective intelligence, they are a bulwark against Iran and they have been working closely with Israel. You put all that together, we have to try to balance it.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff on the same show takes the Democratic line, It’s Kushner’s fault.
I think part of why we are where we are is that we have essentially delivered a message through the Trump family that it’s carte blanche for the Saudi family. They can do what they want, where they want and the U.S. will never stand up to them. That kind of a policy has got to come to an end.
Peter Feld writes in the Forward that Kushner has tried to shrug off Khashoggi’s murder, but can’t.
Kushner reportedly argued that the firestorm over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder “will pass, just as it did after other Saudi errors like the kidnapping of the prime minister of Lebanon and the killing of a busload of children in Yemen.”
The quote appeared in an article in The New York Times which was later retracted after pushback.
Feld says this is a blow for the US-Saudi efforts to force Palestinians to accept Bantustans as sovereignty.
The brash Saudi crown prince has been more aggressive than anyone else might be in trying to pressure Palestinians to accept Kushner’s Middle East peace plan, rumored to entail historic concessions that would remove refugee status from almost all Palestinians who currently hold it.
The Associated Press concurs, the Khashoggi killing threatens the Trump peace plan:
“It definitely complicates their plans to release their proposal, if indeed they have one,” said [former US ambassador to Israel] Dan Shapiro.
“A U.S. official familiar with the peace effort said the team remains committed to its plan and does not expect the crisis surrounding the Khashoggi killing to affect it. The official added, however, that the team has not yet discussed the matter since the Saudis confirmed Khashoggi’s death over the weekend, and plans a discussion in the coming days.”
The AP story said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to boast lately about “improved behind-the-scenes ties with moderate Arab countries, an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia.” But the killing is bad news for the vaunted peace deal because bin Salman has lost his international clout.
Mkhaimer Abusada, a Palestinian analyst, said he thinks the Khashoggi killing will have a “huge effect” on the crown prince’s own behavior as well.
“I think from now on, he is going to count his steps carefully and stop being that impulsive,” he said. “The Palestinians will reject the U.S. peace plan when it’s officially on the table and MBS will not be in any good position to wield any pressure on the Palestinians to accept it.”
Neoconservative kingpin Elliott Abrams in the Weekly Standard wants Mohammad bin Salman stripped of “absolute power,” but he is fearful of the consequences for Israel of a major break with the Saudis and a leader who understood “that Iran and not Israel is their enemy.”
An instant decision to cut off all arms sales to the kingdom, being pushed now by many Democrats in Congress, would not be sensible. The main beneficiaries of weakening U.S.-Saudi defense ties would be the regime in Iran, which is the enemy of both Saudi Arabia and the United States, and those who would happily sell whatever arms we do not—China and Russia, for example…
Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations says the murder is likely to have real foreign-policy consequences, constraints on the slaughter in Yemen:
How to respond to the Khashoggi murder has emerged as the biggest foreign policy test so far for a Trump presidency that has mostly created its own crises. It should call for a real investigation, distance itself from MBS, and rein in KSA policy on Yemen.
He concedes that the murder has set back Trump’s Iran strategy:
[The] attempt to defend Saudi action further compromises US standing in the world and makes it harder to build pressure against Iran, an administration priority, especially if Congress sanctions Saudis, as it should and as well it might.
Democratic foreign policy maven Tamara Cofman Wittes is also concerned about the blowback to the Iran policy:
Precisely why this brazen, abhorrent murder has garnered attention in DC and European capitals: it has catalyzed long-brewing concerns over a string of imprudent, destabilizing Saudi policies that undermined important US interests like fight vs extremism and pushing back on Iran.
Neoconservative David Frum retweets a piece in Defense One, that reports on the wide range of politicians calling for U.S. sanctions on Saudi Arabia, but concludes, we need to be hardboiled:
The Pentagon has long accepted Saudi abuses as the price of friendship. The Khashoggi situation won’t change that.
Frum also retweeted Daniel Shapiro’s widely-read piece in Haaretz, the murder is a “disaster” for Israel. Shapiro says the U.S. must end “business as usual” with bin Salman because he “crossed all lines of acceptability,” but the U.S.-Saudi relationship is safe.
There are no boy scouts in the Middle East, and the U.S.-Saudi alliance has persisted through decades of repressive Saudi policies against their own people.
American interests could still be served by some of the economic and social reforms that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has championed, and by the advancement of the joint strategic goals of checking Iranian aggression in the region. Those considerations cannot be so easily dismissed…
Shapiro, the former ambassador who now lives in Israel and is its advocate, worries about the end to Israel’s Iran strategy–
MBS, in his obsession with silencing his critics, has actually undermined the attempt to build an international consensus to pressure Iran…
For Israel, this sordid episode raises the prospects that the anchor of the new Middle East realities it has sought to promote – an Israeli-Sunni Arab coalition, under a U.S. umbrella, to check Iran and Sunni jihadists – cannot be counted upon.
And he says that Israel risks “reputational damage” if it lobbies for Khashoggi in Washington.
A number of Israel advocates aren’t listening. Josh Block continues to retweet smears of Khashoggi: “the beatification of a bad guy.” And he disparages Turkey and Erdogan, who have denounced the murder, as “trustworthy as gas station sushi.”
While Tzvia Greenfield, a former Israeli leftist writing in Haaretz, hails Mohammad bin Salman as virtually another Sadat, willing to affirm Israel’s legitimacy in the Arab world.
[I]t’s necessary to treat the [murder] suspect with kid gloves. Trump’s peace initiative, if it is ever put on the table, is apparently the direct result of pressure by Mohammed bin Salman, who wishes to legitimize Israel before embarking on open cooperation with it. For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived, and calls to depose him, such as those by former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in an op-edin Haaretz (October 21) are destructive and in keeping with the best Obama tradition. Anyone waiting for a world of the purely just will have to struggle all his life with the purely evil.
Bottom line, things are up in the air, and the anti-Iran axis is in jeopardy. The murder is a crisis for the love affair between the supposed reformers in Saudi Arabia and “policy elites and consulting elites” in the west, Abdullah al-Arian said on On the Media. The press fell for bin Salman and ignored Yemen, al-Arian said, in part because when terrorism came up, he always “somehow pointed the finger back at Iran.” Today we see “a very laudable reaction on the part of the U.S. media,” Al-Arian says of the Khashoggi reaction. “We see this outrage that we don’t normally see.”
Yes, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, foreign policy hawks, have been among the most outraged on the cable stations. And even Bill Kristol is done with the Saudis:
The Saudi lies about the murder of Khashoggi come from a regime that routinely lies, that’s based on lies. The Saudis have exported terror while pretending to fight it; their playboy princes pretend to be defenders of the faith; the regime revels in corruption at home and abroad.