The CIA report on the murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi was clear: the final responsible is the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The response of the Saudi Arabian authorities was equally clear: it rejects the findings of the report and maintains an action by an autonomous group of individuals who have been punished.
However, everything suggests that MBS, as the Crown Prince is also called, is behind the murder, but Washington has, for the time being, proved very reluctant when it comes to national sanctions or individual sanctions such as the freezing of accounts of those concerned.
Anthony Blinken, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has imposed 76 other high-ranking Saudi‘s an entry ban to America, “but there is no MBS”, concluded American correspondent Marieke de Vries in the CCEit Radio 1 Journal this morning.
According to Rob de Wijk, of the Centre for Strategic Studies and Professor of International Relations at the University of Leiden, these sanctions have little to deal with. “This is one of the known sanctions for annoying people, as in China or Russia. It does not yield much, although it is annoying for the person concerned. You show that you disagree with them, but it remains largely symbolic of course.”
According to Arab world correspondent Daisy Mohr, the Saudi media underlined the official lecture on the murder of Khashoggi. This lecture was also supported by Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain today. “Although the news here in the region has not been as big as it has been in the West over the past few days.”
Criticising MBS is complicated in Saudi Arabia. “On social media we see support for the Crown Prince from the country, although there is hardly room for an opposing opinion there. Under the leadership of MBS, many social reforms have been carried out in recent years, the country is changing. That is why there are many Saudis who support the Crown Prince.”
The Crown Prince becomes the problem, not Saudi Arabia
However, Biden has announced to announce ‘major changes‘ regarding the relationship with Saudi Arabia. Mohr, De Vries and De Wijk also point to Biden’s telephone conversation with the Saudi king Salman prior to the publication of the Khashoggi report. Biden‘s predecessor Trump always spoke with his son and intended successor, so why doesn’t Biden do that?
De Wijk: “Biden clearly serves the crown prince. My first reaction was that this could be very annoying for the Crown Prince. It is possible that more countries will follow the example of Biden”, continues De Wijk. “It‘s also quite a smart strategy, because if the Crown Prince becomes persona non grata, then the Crown Prince is the problem and Saudi Arabia is not.”
Yet De Wijk knows that a good relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia is of great importance for both countries. “There is now a precarious balance in the region, where the US and Saudi Arabia need each other in their fight against Iran’s influence. Biden has clearly indicated that he no longer supports the Saudis in their interference in Yemen. In fact, you say the Saudi‘s have to withdraw.”
If the Americans turn away from Saudi Arabia, it may pose a security problem for Saudi Arabia in the region, with far-reaching consequences. “What you want to prevent is that the Saudi’s come with a nuclear weapon. History also shows that a region becomes more unstable when nuclear weapons are in the making.”
Iran-deal breathe new life
According to De Wijk, the US is not going to do much further to allow Saudi Arabia to carry out more social reforms. “Biden is too realistic for this, he thinks in small steps. In practice, Western influence also always leads to hardening. The US needs to strike a balance between keeping ties warm at a higher strategic level and handing out penalties at a limited level below.”
As far as the suspicions towards BMS in the Khashoggi case are concerned, the US will also adopt a pragmatic approach, suspects De Wijk. “You cannot prevent it from happening again, but hope that the Crown Prince will hold back in the future.”
The focus of Biden will be on maintaining balance in the Middle East or even improving it. De Wijk: “If he revives the Iran deal and starts the peace process in Yemen in cooperation with the United Nations, he is well on his way.”