25 August 2019
File photo of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. Photo: Saudi Royal Palace via AFP
File photo of US President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. Photo: Saudi Royal Palace via AFP

US unlikely to go after Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s death

As the saga over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi continues to unfold, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday there is compelling evidence suggesting that the order to kill the Saudi dissident journalist could have come from the highest levels of the Saudi authority, possibly linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself.

The mysterious death of Khashoggi constitutes an outright violation of western values, and under normal circumstances, the United States would be infuriated.

But as it turns out, US President Donald Trump has appeared to be trying to downplay the incident and go easy on the Saudis.

One shouldn’t have been surprised at all. That’s because at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia remains one of the most influential allies of the US in the Middle East.

Besides, under Washington’s strategic planning in the region, Saudi Arabia is instrumental in containing Iran and covering the flank of Israel, not to mention its key role in fighting alongside the US against terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

As such, the Saudi government might have brutally murdered an outspoken journalist, but it is quite unlikely that Washington would really get tough with its steadfast ally and hold Riyadh’s feet to the fire over the incident, let alone impose economic sanctions or halting arms sales to the Saudis.

As a businessman, Trump always gives priority to solid interests over moral values. And if he has no problem making friends with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has allegedly murdered his own elder half-brother, then why would he have any problem staying friendly with the Saudi leaders?

Moreover, there is another fundamental reason why Washington is unlikely to sacrifice its relations with Riyadh for Khashoggi.

As the Sino-US trade war rages, Beijing is very likely to step in and offer the Saudis a huge arms deal once the US-Saudi relations have gone sour over the death of Khashoggi and Washington has decided to cancel its US$110 billion weapon sales to the country.

Apparently, the White House would not let that scenario take place.

However, that the US is going easy on Saudi Arabia doesn’t necessarily mean Crown Prince Mohammed is now out of the woods.

The French newspaper Le Figaro, citing a source, reported that the Saudi Allegiance Council recently held a secret meeting discussing the possibility of ousting Prince Mohammed and replacing him with his 28-year-old brother Khalid bin Salman, who is currently serving as Saudi ambassador to the US.

It is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that Prince Mohammed will be removed in order to resolve the ongoing crisis.

After all, the young crown prince himself has made a lot of enemies and ruthlessly purged more than 10 of his brothers in his rise to power.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 24

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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