Dictators welcomed and safe from prosecution in the US

Wednesday, 04 January 2023 10:47 AM  

[ Last Update: Wednesday, 04 January 2023 10:51 AM ]

Mohammad Bin Salman, Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister (File Image)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman being granted immunity from prosecution in US reassuring dictators around the world that they are safe in America.

In September, as a lawsuit was proceeding against him in a federal court in the United States, Mohammed bin Salman abruptly became Saudi Arabia’s Prime Minister, a role with several rights that he had not enjoyed previously as the country’s Crown Prince.

That dubious move paid off on Thursday, November 17, when the US State Department said that bin Salman enjoyed head of state immunity in US courts effectively dooming the lawsuit filed against him for his role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

How bin Salman escaped punishment

Khashoggi was a loyalist turned dissident who lived in self exile in the United States and wrote articles critical of Bin Salman for The Washington Post.

In late 2018 he traveled to Turkey to obtain papers he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

On October 2, he entered the diplomatic building. He never left, not on his own feet. A hit squad flown in from Saudi Arabia had been waiting for him inside the consulate where they tortured him to death, and then dismembered his body, taking his limbs outside in suitcases.

Khashoggi’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, waited for hours outside the consulate for him to emerge, when he didn’t she alerted the Turkish police.

Soon, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a personal friend of the couple, joined the fray with full force and hardly a day went by without President Erdogan, or the Turkish Government, commenting publicly on the case, thus directing international attention to the Saudi government, or dropping hints that bin Salman, the Crown Prince, may have been personally involved.

Erdogan hosts MBS on his first visit to Turkey since Khashoggi murder

Saudi Arabia

Plenty of evidence, no prosecution

Turkish security agencies even released audio tapes from inside the consulate with people yelling and Khashoggi screaming, effectively detailing the grisly murder and keeping the international community focused.

And only a month and a half after the murder, The Washington Post, which had been Khashoggi’s publication of choice, dropped a bombshell. The CIA had concluded that Mohammed bin Salman had personally ordered Khashoggi murder. The CIA never spoke publicly about their findings on the matter.

Already the world had learned of an earlier princely gambit whereby Mohammed had become Crown Prince through what US media described as a coup d’etat, purging his rivals and holding the then Crown Prince in custody until he agreed to step down.

To learn that the prince had become so emboldened as to order the murder of his critics in a foreign country was seen to have been a step too far, and it seemed that the prince was finally going to be held to account.

There was reason to believe that since President Erdogan was unrelenting in his public admonishments of Saudi Arabia.

Years later, both before and after he assumed office, US President Joe Biden was openly critical of Saudi Arabia. At one point during a presidential debate when he was asked about the Khashoggi case, Biden said he would make the Saudis “pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are”.

All of that angry moral posturing went down the drain of history when the US State Department said that the Saudi Prince had legal immunity in the United States of America as Prime Minister, Saudi King Salman, MBS’s father, had already bent over backwards to make that possible, but even he himself couldn’t believe that the Americans would fall for his scheme that easily.

Legally the prime minister himself as King of the country, King Salman acted against Saudi law by delegating that position to his son in late September just as Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiance, was doing everything she could to have justice served in a court of law.

The US mulls lifting a ban on the sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia; however, the final decision is expected to hinge on the KSA ending the war in neighboring Yemen.

President Biden’s rhetoric, and his anger over a move by OPEC+ to limit output at a time of energy difficulties for the US and Europe had given further hope even though the Turkish denunciations had already died down years ago.

Fraught as it is with behind the scenes jockeying, betrayals and other moral failures, world politics took away not just one woman’s hope for justice, but the entire world’s faith in the willingness of the US and other governments to stand up to tyranny, despite all the rhetoric to the opposite effect, killing Hatice Cengiz’s hope for justice and perhaps closure.

The US and others had one message for all murderous dictators in the world: You’re safe in America.

The prince and the spy, MBS vs al-Jabri

The prince and the spy, MBS vs al-Jabri

Barely five years since he came to prominence as the crown Prince, and the de facto leader of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, MBS has shocked the world with his callous disregard for human life.


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US throws Khashoggi case under a bus after suit against MBS dismissed

7 Dec 2022

Source: Agencies

By Al Mayadeen English 

Prior to his electoral victory, US President Biden pledged he would make MBS a “pariah” and said he would bring justice to the dismembered victim. 

A US federal judge ruled on Wednesday that the lawsuit against the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman be lifted after it was announced by federal authorities that he was basically “immune” from jurisdiction. 

The reason for such entitlement was owed to his title as prime minister of Saudi Arabia which he was granted on September 27, just six days before the State Department’s court-imposed deadline to determine whether Mohammed was protected from legal action.

“The US has informed the court that he is immune, and Mohammed is therefore ‘entitled to head of state immunity … while he remains in office,’”  reads a filing by Judge John D. Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia who heeded the motion to protect the Crown Prince despite there being “credible allegations of his involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.”

The filing also dismissed the claims filed against two senior Saudi officials due to a lack of evidence in pushing for a ruling over their case.

Read more: Amnesty: US immunity to MBS ‘deep betrayal’

Civil rights organization, DAWN, founded by the late Jamal Khashoggi condemned the move as a “last ditch effort to escape the jurisdiction of the court.”

“DAWN’s lawsuit against [Mohammed] bin Salman (MBS) for his ruthless murder of Jamal Khashoggi is only one part of our continued efforts for justice and accountability for this crime, and the many other crimes the Saudi government is perpetrating against its own citizens,” a statement reads by the organization’s executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson. “While we are disappointed in the decision, we will consider all options to continue our legal challenges to MBS’s criminal behavior.”

Bin Salman admitted he was responsible for the death of Khashoggi but denied any direct involvement in the assassination. 

Read more: US says MBS’ ‘legal immunity’ was unavoidable, albeit not so sure

Prior to his electoral victory, US President Biden pledged he would make MBS a “pariah” and said he would bring justice to the dismembered victim. 

But when Biden greeted MBS earlier this year with a fist bump, it was clear to the public that Biden broke his vow.

In response to the outrageous move, Khashoggi’s fiance, Hatice Cengiz, urged the President to “uphold your promise to pursue justice for Jamal.”

“President Biden, imagine yourself in my position, trying to move on while knowing that the people who killed your loved one are still free,” Cengiz wrote. “Imagine the trauma of knowing that what happened to your loved one can and will happen to someone else because the perpetrators know there will be no consequences.”

Read more: 

Iran to Grab the Initiative in the “Combined War”

November 26, 2022 

By Ali Abadi

Have the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran begun to regain the initiative in the “combined war” that was imposed on them? What is the horizon for the next stage in dealing with the emerging internal-external challenge?

When Leader of the Islamic Revolution His Eminence Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei indicated in a speech to a gathering of school students earlier this month that the enemy had a “plan” behind igniting the “combined war” currently targeting Iran, His Eminence was recalling the information contained in a joint statement of the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards on October 28. The statement included data, most notably:

  • The involvement of the CIA and the British, “Israeli” and Saudi intelligence in the disturbances within the “plan to destroy Iran”. The planning and practical implementation of the bulk of the riots was carried out by the Mossad.
  • Smuggling military and espionage equipment for subversive networks into Iran.
  • The CIA organized training courses for some of its Iranian agents, including “N.H.” who took the first photo of the late Mahsa Amini while she was in the hospital.
  • Setting American institutes for riots several months before they occurred, as they ordered their agents to abuse sanctities, burn the Holy Quran and mosques, and target security forces and clerics.

The decline of “protests” and the progress of assassinations

About two months after the outbreak of the protests, it can be said that their course is taking a downward turn based on several indicators. The first chapter of it, which is to stir people up and push them to the street, has exhausted its energy, even if it has not completely ended yet. Now it is mainly dependent on armed groups carrying out assassination attacks against security personnel. Over the past few days, these groups carried out attacks that led to the killing of security officers who were working to control the situation and interview some people on the street [in Mashhad, Isfahan, Kurdistan, Khuzestan, and Baluchistan]. It seems that the aim of these attacks is to escalate the situation again in the street by provoking the security forces to draw them into a reaction that sheds more blood.

The shootings took place in provinces where the activities of separatist armed groups are concentrated, such as Khuzestan, Baluchistan, Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan, and incidents took place in other regions [Isfahan, Tehran, Mashhad] to give the impression that all of Iran is a hotspot. However, the movements remain limited in comparison to the vastness of Iran, and the number of participants in each movement in the street is in the hundreds at best.

In a preliminary reading, it appears that the security services are acting according to a plan that takes into account the following objectives:

  • Luring: Detecting riot groups and their organizers by giving them an opportunity to go out in public, as what happened in the past weeks, when a large number of people were arrested based on what was captured from cameras, drones and information of informants on the ground.
  • Gaining public opinion: To allow people who were affected by the demands raised by the rioters to see the truth about these people through their practices and to reveal the fall of a large number of security personnel during the protests at the hands of armed and rioting groups. It is worth noting here that the climate in which these disturbances were born affected some of the political elites in the country who did not take a position on what was happening, which the Iranian president referred to as “a clouding of the minds of the elite”. This reveals a loophole similar to what happened in Lebanon after October 17, 2019, where some figured had been affected by the propaganda atmosphere on social media and foreign media. This imposes a tax on solution that has a greater political and security cost.
  • Reducing casualties among people during security measures on the ground to prevent the enemy from benefiting from any mistakes that might contribute to the siding of bewildered Iranians to the rioters against public order. This may lead to losses and sacrifices among the officers of the security forces, but this price remains small given the goal of not harming the largest number of people.

The Iranian security services were able to defuse the tension in some areas after opening dialogues with many social elites, as many people who were concerned about the safety of their regions and countries confirmed that the issue was not related to specific demands, but rather to dragging the country into an open confrontation with dangerous consequences.

In parallel, the security services are carrying out local operations to dismantle many cells responsible for killing people and security personnel and arresting their members, which is expected to lead to the dispersion of these groups and the scattering of their efforts and ability to communicate. And the security services show that they have accurate information about the people involved, based on technical tracking and relying on surveillance cameras and drones that play a role in monitoring movements on the ground.

In his speech to a delegation from the people of Isfahan a couple of days ago, Imam Khamenei drew attention to two points: the first is reassuring, in which he said that the current events will be accommodated and that “rioters and those behind them are too despicable to be able to harm the regime”. The second is that the people respond to these practices with greater awareness through massive participation in the funeral ceremonies of security personnel who are killed by the enemy. This last observation was tested and seen clearly in the funerals of martyrs who died in different provinces, and this would “turn the threat into an opportunity” to mobilize the people in the face of the enemy’s plans.

Direct US Intervention

Also, within the combined war, there are direct interventions led by the United States to add fuel to the fire and encourage the continuation of the unrest through:

  • Statements by American and European political leaders criticizing what they call “violations against protesters in Iran”, in an unbalanced view that reflects a strategy pursued to undermine the Islamic Republic’s government.
  • The mobilization of the media and the use of the capabilities of social media platforms in order to undermine Islamic values and transform the current problem into a position on the Islamic identity of Iranian society [the hijab, turban, flag of the Islamic Republic, pictures of martyrs, various religious symbols]. This malicious endeavor is being carried out by some idiots who see the West as their reference, and not the broad masses of the Iranian people who are proud of their religious values.
  • Imposing commercial sanctions on Iranian companies and others on Iranian media personalities, particularly on state television, which broadcasts video clips of confessions of those arrested in the assassination crimes.
  • Pressure through the United Nations General Assembly, where Western countries pushed for a session that voted to condemn Iran regarding alleged “violations” of human rights, noting that the number of countries that supported the resolution [78 votes] represents less than half of the number of countries that participated in the session [178 countries], where the rest preferred to abstain [69 countries], and a smaller number dared to refuse to condemn [31 countries]. This comes at a time when the US State Department exempted the Saudi Crown Prince from prosecution in a case brought before US courts in the case of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in exchange for US commercial interests.
  • Pressure through the United Nations Human Rights Council as well, as it will meet within days to vote on a project directed against Iran, after it was prepared in a text proposed by Western countries.
  • Pressure in the United Nations Women’s Committee “to get Iran out of the committee,” as US Vice President Kamala Harris pledged.
  • Pressure through the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] by holding a meeting condemning Iran for “not cooperating with the agency in the investigation of uranium enrichment activities”, without regard to the steps presented by Tehran in this context, including the signing of the Additional Cooperation Protocol. Washington hopes, in coordination with its partners, to bring Iran’s file to the Security Council, claiming that it poses a threat to international peace and security. This claim is not approved by several countries, including Russia and China, which indicates that the ultimate US goal is to defame Iran and harm its reputation and credibility in international forums, in preparation for its isolation, to prevent it from achieving great gains in the event that an agreement regarding the nuclear file was reached later.

Thus, the US administration proves that it uses the United Nations with all its bodies to implement its own agenda aimed at subjugating Iran and achieving what it failed to achieve in the Vienna meetings. It is concretely confirmed that the Biden and Trump administrations are two sides of the same coin, as the current administration completes the investment in what its predecessor began in terms of the strict blockade against the Islamic Republic.

There remains a final sign: Iranian media reported that Iran had informed Qatar that it would not respond during the period of the World Cup hosted by Doha to external parties that planned and organized interference in its internal affairs, in response to Qatar’s positive position of not cooperating with the efforts aimed at preventing the participation of Iran’s national team in the event. And if this is true – and it appears that it is according to some evidence – then this means that the authorities of the Islamic Republic will take advantage of the period of the Qatar World Cup in order to rearrange the internal security situation, after which it will devote itself to dealing with the sources of the external threat.

Biden Administration Grants Saudi’s MBS ‘Immunity’ in Khashoggi Murder Case

November 18, 2022

US President Joe Biden with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during a visit to the Kingdom in July 2022.

The Biden administration has told a US court that Mohammed bin Salman should be granted sovereign immunity in a civil case involving the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, effectively ending a last-ditch attempt to hold the Saudi crown prince legally accountable for the 2018 killing.

In a filing released late on Thursday night, the Biden administration said the crown prince’s recent promotion to the role of prime minister meant that he was “the sitting head of government and, accordingly, immune” from the lawsuit.

“The United States government has expressed grave concerns regarding Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific killing and has raised these concerns publicly and with the most senior levels of the Saudi government,” the Department of Justice said in its filing, adding that the US had also imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions related to the murder.

“However, the doctrine of head of state immunity is well established in customary international law and has been consistently recognized in longstanding executive branch practice as a status-based determination that does not reflect a judgment on the underlying conduct at issue in the litigation,” it said.

The government’s filing included an attached letter from Richard Visek, acting legal adviser to the US state department, instructing the Department of Justice to submit a “suggestion of immunity” to the court.

Legal experts say the US government’s position, which was filed to a US district court, will likely lead judge John Bates to dismiss a civil case brought against Prince Mohammed, known by his initials MBS by Hatice Cengiz, the outspoken fiancee of Khashoggi.

Back in 2019, in the wake of the assassination of Washington Post, then-presidential candidate Biden promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the kingdom’s human rights record.

Biden repeatedly talked about reevaluating and reassessing US-Saudi relations. To his credit, Biden seemed to follow through on this early in his presidency by suspending offensive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, freezing contacts with MBS, and releasing a brief assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence establishing the Saudi crown prince’s role in and responsibility for Khashoggi’s death.

Thursday’s decision is likely to provoke an angry reaction. The White House had hoped the July trip by President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia would get the rocky US-Saudi relationship back on track but since then, relations have only continued to sour.

The relationship is being reevaluated, the White House has said earlier in October, in the wake of an oil production cut by Saudi-led OPEC+ that the administration saw as a direct affront to the US. Members of Congress, already infuriated by the oil cut and calling for a reevaluation, will likely only be angered further if the prince is given immunity.

Source: Agencies

US hands down ‘immunity’ to MBS in Khashoggi murder case

Saudi Crackdown: Regime Detains Yemeni-American Citizen While on Pilgrimage

November 14, 2022

By Staff, Agencies

As Saudi Arabia is hardening crackdown on dissent, including targeting its citizens who live abroad, a Yemeni-American citizen has been detained in Saudi Arabia while performing the ‘Umrah’ pilgrimage at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site.

Mohamad Salem was taken into custody on November 1 and has been transferred to a maximum-security facility typically used for high-profile political prisoners and suspected terrorists.

Salem, a 63-year-old of Yemeni origin, is one of several Americans who have recently run afoul of Saudi authorities.

Abdallah Moughni, a family spokesman from the US state of Michigan said on Sunday that Salem traveled to Saudi Arabia with two of his sons to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

While in line, he got into a verbal altercation with security officials who separated him from his sons.

Later, two men approached him, saying they were from Libya and asking what happened.

“At this point, Mohamad was livid, he was furious. He just let it out. He said, ‘If it was not for Mecca and Medina, we would burn this country to the ground’,” Moughni was quoted as saying on Sunday.

The two men turned out to be undercover Saudi agents, and Salem was detained.

Salem’s relatives have grown increasingly concerned for his welfare since he was transferred to Dhahban Central Prison, where rights groups previously documented allegations of torture via electrocution and flogging.

Saudi Arabia is often criticized for not tolerating dissent and has recently been in the spotlight for decades-long prison sentences handed down to a number of women who tweeted and retweeted posts critical of the Riyadh regime.

This week, Carly Morris, an American woman who has publicly accused her Saudi ex-husband of trapping their daughter in the kingdom under so-called guardianship laws, was briefly detained.

Last month, Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a 72-year-old US citizen of Saudi origin, had received a 16-year prison sentence apparently because of Twitter posts on topics including the war in Yemen and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

All sentences were handed down weeks after President Joe Biden of the United States set aside his past condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record to travel to the kingdom, despite criticism from rights groups and Saudi exiles.

It was a moment when the US urgently needed the kingdom to keep up oil production. But the Biden administration has ended up with no more oil or any improvement in human rights.

Saudi rights advocates say Biden’s attempts to soothe the crown prince have only emboldened him.

Saudi authorities illicitly monitor and strike out against their citizens in the US and other Western countries. Since the gruesome murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi crown prince has been emboldened to commit more crimes against dissidents. Khashoggi was killed and dismembered at the mission in October 2018.

Since bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested hundreds of activists, bloggers, intellectuals and others for their political activism, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnation of the crackdown.

Freedom House, a research and advocacy group, says Saudi Arabia has targeted critics in more than a dozen countries.

Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the US and the ‘Israeli’ regime, has had one of the poorest human rights records in the world for decades.

Opec+ row: The US has lost control of its Gulf allies

13 October 2022 

David Hearst

The Biden administration is now paying the price for its chaotic and inconsistent policy on Saudi Arabia

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden issued his national security strategy, which boasted, among other things, of his country’s unique capacity to “defend democracy around the world”.

US President Joe Biden at the White House, on 4 October 2022 (AFP)

One of the standout phrases of this unashamed piece of geopolitical fiction was this one: “We are forging creative new ways to work in common cause with partners around issues of shared interest.”

This statement was released just days after Opec+, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, unleashed the biggest shock to oil markets this century by cutting production by two million barrels a day.

It’s chaos – not in the unstable Middle East, but in the corridors of the National Security Council

Despite Riyadh’s latest protestations that the decision was based only on “economic considerations”, the move has triggered a tidal wave of anger among Democratic members of Congress, who are now threatening to suspend arms sales to the kingdom for a year. National security adviser Jake Sullivan has also said the White House was looking into a halt to arms sales. As 73 percent of the kingdom’s arms imports come from the US, this is no mere rhetorical threat.

“If it weren’t for our technicians, their airplanes literally wouldn’t fly… We literally are responsible for their entire air force,” Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman from California, told reporters. “What galls so many of us in Congress is the ingratitude.”

Incidentally, the same is true of the British firm BAE Systems, which supplies and maintains aircraft for Saudi Arabia, but the UK government is staying silent. 

It should not. Because the national security strategy shows that, among other things, the US has lost control of its allies, especially in the Middle East and particularly in the Gulf.

Courting a ‘pariah’

To take Biden’s tenure as an illustration, one of the first things he did upon taking office was to appoint Brett McGurk, a diplomat who had served under previous presidents, as his National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East.

McGurk is famous, or rather infamous, among Sunni political circles in Iraq – let alone pro-Iran Shia ones – for being rather too close to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and latterly its prime minister. McGurk set up the disastrous “fist bump” encounter between Biden and Mohammed bin Salman by negotiating an agreement between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt over the transfer of two uninhabited but strategically placed islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Sanafir.

How, then, could Mohammed bin Salman poke such a large finger in Biden’s eye just before the midterm elections, if McGurk had been doing his job? It’s chaos – not in the unstable Middle East, but in the corridors of the National Security Council.

Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are pictured in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 16 July 2022 (AFP)
Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 16 July 2022 (AFP)

Or take the decisions that Biden made over Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist and Middle East Eye columnist murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Biden abandoned the principles he touted as a presidential candidate to treat the Saudi crown prince as a pariah, the moment he took office. 

Upon the publication of a summary of a CIA report on the murder, which concluded that Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing, Biden had an opportunity to put US weight behind a UN investigation into the killing. He notably declined to do so.

The US announced visa restrictions against 76 Saudis implicated in the plot, but did nothing against the man its intelligence services said was behind it. 

“The relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time of the so-called Khashoggi ban. “What we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship, but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values.”

Dennis Ross, a former Middle East negotiator, applauded Biden for “trying to thread the needle”, telling the New York Times that the affair was “a classic example of where you have to balance your values and your interests”.

Not unnaturally, Mohammed bin Salman concluded that he had gotten away with it. Now, Biden is paying the price.

State of surprise

The American foreign policy establishment has been, since the end of the Cold War, in a permanent state of surprise.

There was surprise that it had “lost Russia” at the end of the 1990s; surprise at the devastation caused by its invasion of Iraq; surprise over Vladimir Putin’s 2007 Munich speech, in which the Russian leader called out the US’s “almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations”; surprise at Putin’s intervention in Syria; surprise over the fall of Kabul; and surprise that strategic decisions such as expanding Nato eastwards would ultimately lead to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

At least the US is showing consistency in its faulty analytics and strategy, and massive blind spots. You can now rely on it to make the wrong choice

A world power that, until Putin’s intervention in Syria, held a monopoly on the use of international force but has squandered its authority in a series of mainly unforced errors. That is why it can no longer lead the democracies of the world.

Alienating China at the very time the US needs President Xi Jinping to contain Putin and stop him from using battlefield nukes, which he is quite capable of doing, is perhaps the biggest strategic mistake it is currently making. 

At least the US is showing admirable consistency in its faulty analytics and strategy, and massive blind spots. You can now rely on it to make the wrong choice. 

But what of its wayward allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates?

Saudi miscalculations

Saudi foreign policy cannot be untangled from the personality of its de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. He is to international relations what a Nintendo game console is to careful reflection. He presses a button and thinks it can happen. He has an idea, and it has to be true.

I recently met an academic in Tehran who believed Mohammed bin Salman had moved beyond his Game Boy past. He is involved in backchannel negotiations with the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia: Mohammed bin Salman is now the state

Read More »

“A senior Saudi diplomat told me that MBS started as a kid playing video games,” he told me. “Killing Khashoggi, starting a military intervention in Yemen which would last ‘two weeks’, the siege of Qatar, getting rid of [Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri were all video games for him, buttons you can press, enemies disappearing from the screen. Out of necessity, he is becoming more strategic.

“Strategic maturity does not come from what you would like to have. It comes out of necessity,” the academic added. “I don’t think the Saudis decided to move beyond that strategic relationship with America. The American hand is still strong. But there are differences happening. The Americans are not seen with the same confidence that was seen in Riyadh.

“Where does it leave the Saudis? The Saudis have been trying to build relations with China and Russia and in the region. Vision 2030 cannot move without calm all around the kingdom. The Saudis see Yemen in two tracks: one, the Saudi-Yemeni track [with the Houthis]; two, the national reconciliation track. But the two rely on each other, and MBS is moving towards a compromise.”

The Iranian academic admitted that this was music to his ears, which was why he thought his Saudi counterpart was playing it, but nor could he discount the temptation to believe it.

Machiavellian tutor

Mohammed bin Salman admires Putin personally. Multiple sources have told me that the inspiration for the Tiger Squad – which killed and dismembered the body of Khashoggi and tried to do the same to Saad al-Jabri, a former minister of state and adviser to deposed crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef – came from the killing of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in London and the attempted poisoning of defector Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

But beyond that, Mohammed bin Salman sees the limits of the kingdom’s ties to the US. He used former President Donald Trump as his ticket to the top of the Saudi royal family, but now that the Trump clan is – for the moment – out of power, he sees no reason not to court Russia. 

But he remains impulsive, and his tutor in the modern art of Machiavelli, UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed, is more astute.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (R) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are pictured in Abu Dhabi in November 2019 (AFP/Saudi Royal Palace)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi, in November 2019 (AFP/Saudi Royal Palace)

In distinction to his pupil, Mohammed bin Zayed still sees his country’s growing trade alliance with Israel as his ticket to influencing US policymakers. It was his ambassador in the US, Yousef al-Otaiba – not the Saudi ambassador – who introduced Mohammed bin Salman to the Trump family and to Washington.

But Mohammed bin Zayed hates being told what to do. One official familiar with relations between the Saudi and Emirati crown princes told me of a plan Mohammed bin Salman once had to run a maglev railway around the Gulf. Only a few of these systems, such as the Shanghai Transrapid, are running in the world, due to the enormous cost of construction. 

“MBS makes a plan and tells everyone else how much to invest without consulting them,” the official said. “He had an idea to run a maglev train going around the Gulf. Its [cost] was $160bn, because it’s $1bn a mile. Abu Dhabi’s share was huge. They were furious and stopped the plan.

“MBZ resents being told what to do by MBS, because he thinks he created him. MBS could not conceive of a relationship to him where he is subservient.”

New era of power projection

So while Mohammed bin Zayed went to Russia courting Putin, his officials distanced themselves from the Opec+ oil cut. The Financial Times reported that the UAE and Iraq had “expressed misgivings”.

Foreign policy in the hands of Mohammed bin Zayed is more nuanced than in those of his Saudi protege. This means that every move Mohammed bin Zayed makes is reversible, and therefore tradeable. He calculates each move before he makes it.

Although the two men look in public to be close to each other, in reality, Mohammed bin Salman is moving faster than his neighbour wants him to. The one thing that Mohammed bin Zayed does not want is for Mohammed bin Salman to become his own man. At the same time, the one thing that Mohammed bin Salman will not tolerate is for anyone else to issue him orders. 

The US is being tested as much by its allies as by its foes. And for good reason

It happened once over Yemen, where the announcement of the pullout of UAE troops left the Saudi crown prince on his own.

Biden and his advisers may be tempted to take a successful pushback of Russian troops in Ukraine as a starting gun for a new era of American power projection around the world – one whose target is China. But even if Putin is turned back in Ukraine, they would be profoundly wrong to do so.

The US is being tested as much by its allies as by its foes. And for good reason: they sense that the US won’t resume the role of unchallenged leader, which it held briefly for three decades.

The US has learned no lessons from the fall of Kabul. It reacted to its military defeat in Afghanistan by trading up. A geographically limited conflict in Central Asia was replaced by a potentially much larger conflict with China. Large parts of the world have rightly lost faith in this type of leadership.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

David Hearst is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He is a commentator and speaker on the region and analyst on Saudi Arabia. He was the Guardian’s foreign leader writer, and was correspondent in Russia, Europe, and Belfast. He joined the Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

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«أوبك +» هل تقصم ظهر العلاقات الأميركية ـ السعودية

الثلاثاء 18 أكتوبر 2022 

بتول قصير

يبدو أنّ خيبات الولايات المتحدة الأميركية تتوالى. فقد أثار قرار الدول المصدرة للبترول “أوبك” والدول المنتجة للنفط المتحالفة معها “أوبك بلس” خفض إنتاج النفط بمقدار مليوني برميل يومياً، حالة من الهستيريا والغضب في واشنطن، لما له من تداعيات سلبية على الولايات المتحدة وحلفائها. فعلى خلفية القرار عبّر الرئيس جو بايدن أنه “أصيب بخيبة أمل” ووصف القرار بـ “قصير النظر”، واتهم دول المنظمة النفطية بالانحياز إلى روسيا.

شكل قرار خفض الإنتاج حالة إرباك بالنسبة لإدارة الرئيس بايدن، فالتوقيت الحرج لهذا القرار يأتي قبل شهر تقريباً من موعد إجراء انتخابات التجديد النصفي للكونغرس. وثمة خطر في أنّ هذا الخفض الذي سيدخل سريان المفعول في الأول من تشرين الثاني/ نوفمبر من شأنه أن يتسبّب في ارتفاع أسعار البنزين والغاز، ما يعني انّ واشنطن أمام كارثة سياسية كاملة الأركان على إدارة الرئيس الديمقراطي بايدن، خاصة أنّ خصومه الجمهوريين سيستغلون الفرصة الثمينة هذه للإطاحة بمصداقيته أمام الناخبين الأميركيين خلال عملية الاقتراع، كإثبات على السياسة الفاشلة التي تمتع بها عهده.

وعلى خلفية هذا القرار تعالت الأصوات في الكونغرس الأميركي التي تدعو لإعادة النظر في العلاقة مع الرياض، وتأطير العلاقة مع الأخيرة التي اعتبرت الإدارة الأميركية خطوتها بأنها بمثابة انحياز للمملكة في صراعات دولية وأنه قرار بُني على دوافع سياسية ضدّ الولايات المتحدة الأميركية. واللافت انّ ارتفاع وتيرة التوتر بين البلدين ترافق مع طرح النائب الأميركي الديمقراطي توم مالينوفسكي مشروع قانون في مجلس النواب يطالب إدارة الرئيس بايدن بسحب أنظمة الدفاع ضدّ الصواريخ و3000 جندي، وهم قوام القوات الأميركية من السعودية والإمارات. وقال مالينوفسكي في بيان صادر عنه: “لقد حان الوقت لكي تستأنف الولايات المتحدة دورها كدولة عظمى في علاقتها بزبائنها في الخليج”.

وعليه فإنّ حفلة الجنون الأميركية عقب قرار “أوبك بلس”، يفسّرها انشغال واشنطن وحلفائها في السعي الدؤوب لضمان أمنهم الطاقي نظراً لأهمية مصادر الطاقة العالمية. خاصة بعد أزمة أوكرانيا وإغلاق روسيا لصنابير الطاقة والغاز عن أوروبا.

وكخطوات عاجلة أمر الرئيس الأميركي وزارة الطاقة بالإفراج عن 10 ملايين برميل من الاحتياطي البترولي الاستراتيجي الأميركي في الأسواق مع دخول خفض الإنتاج حيّز التنفيذ في الأول من تشرين الثاني/ نوفمبر، والاستمرار في اللجوء إلى احتياطي البترول الاستراتيجي كلما اقتضت الحاجة. كما باشر بايدن بمشاورات مع الكونغرس للبحث في آليات إضافية لتقليص تحكم أوبك في أسعار الطاقة وتقليص اعتماد الولايات المتحدة على المصادر الأجنبية للوقود الأحفوري وتسريع ضخ الاستثمارات في الطاقة النظيفة.

من منظورٍ آخر، يبدو أنّ واشنطن تسبّبت بطريقة أو بأخرى بدفع “أوبك بلس” لخفض الإنتاج، عندما قرّرت مؤخراً رفع أسعار الفائدة والدولار، في وقت يستورد العالم النفط بالعملة الأميركية، ورفع قيمته يؤثر على الدول المستوردة للنفط، ما تسبّب بقلة الطلب عليه، ما أدّى لخلق فائض نفطي لدول “أوبك بلس”. واشنطن المذهولة من القرار حمّلت الرياض مسؤولية تداعياته، معتبرة أنّ دوافعه سياسية وانحياز لروسيا وسيشكل دعماً لها لا يُستهان به.

بدورها السعودية رفضت الاتهامات الأميركية التي لا تستند إلى الحقائق، وعلقت بأنّ القرار اتخذ بالإجماع من كافة دول المجموعة، وهو قرار اقتصادي بحت. وما زاد الطين بلة، أنّ قراراً مدعوماً من السعودية بأن تتوقف مجموعة “أوبك بلس” عن استخدام بيانات وكالة الطاقة الدولية، وهي الهيئة الغربية لمراقبة قطاع الطاقة، ما يعكس المخاوف من التأثير الأميركي على البيانات.

وأخيراً، يبدو انّ زيارة بايدن للسعودية في تموز/ يوليو لم تفعل شيئاً يُذكر لتغيير تصميم محمد بن سلمان على رسم سياسة خارجية مستقلة عن النفوذ الأميركي، خاصة أنّ الزيارة أغضبت ولي العهد، الذي كان منزعجاً من أنّ بايدن تحدث علناً عن تعليقاته الخاصة مع العائلة المالكة بشأن وفاة الصحافي جمال خاشقجي. وهذا لا يعني انّ البيت الأبيض سيتجه لاتخاذ قرارات عقابية واضحة تجاه الرياض، فهو وعلى الرغم من العلاقات بين كلّ من المملكة والولايات المتحدة شهدت مداً وجزراً على مدى عقود خلت وحتى الفترة الحالية، إلا انّ الدولتين تتمتعان بشراكة استراتيجية، مدعومة بمصالح مشتركة. فالبلدان يشتركان في رؤية متوافقة تجاه العديد من القضايا الدولية والإقليمية، من مسألة الملف النووي الإيراني، والتحالف الرباعي ضدّ اليمن، وغيرها من الملفات الإقليمية والدولية.

وعليه فإنّ ما يجمع واشنطن والرياض أكبر بكثير مما يمكن أن يزعزع علاقة البلدين الشاملة في كافة المستويات. بيد أنَّ هذه العلاقات تعرّضت وتتعرّض في أوقات كثيرة لمثل هذه الهزات، إلا أنَّه من المستبعد أن تذهب ردود الأفعال إلى مستويات بعيدة، خصوصاً أنّ قرار «أوبك بلس» لم يكن سعودياً بحتاً.

US-Saudi Rift on OPEC Plus: Bruised Ties or Beyond That?

October 15, 2022

By Hiba Morad | Press TV

The US-Saudi partnership has often been described as a transactional one; majorly owing to Saudi Arabia’s oil supply in return for US arms in bulk. Since 1943, the equation has been protecting the interests of American oil companies in Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas industry in return for weapons and military equipment.

Saudi Arabia is a vital US asset in West Asia. Since the kingdom has the world’s largest oil reserves, enjoys a geo-strategic position, and has influence in the Arab and Islamic worlds, it remains to be the imperialist US’s pivot to Asia. Saudi Arabia has also been the US’ milking cow, paying tremendous sums of money in return for arms deals over the years.

Tensions, however, rose between the two countries following Saudi pressure on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies [OPEC Plus] alliance last week to cut oil production by 2 million barrels per day.

This was after the US was acting in collusion with Saudi Arabia to patch things up in July on the Mohammed Bin Salman-ordered killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The US Intelligence had earlier released a report in which it said that MBS approved the operation to kill and dismantle the journalist.

Recently given a “made up” title of prime minister to secure his impunity at US courts on his role in the killing of Khashoggi, MBS claimed that the decision of OPEC Plus, in which Riyadh is a top producer, was “merely” economic and not politically motivated.

John Kirby, a top spokesperson for the US National Security Council denied the claims and said the Saudi move was wrong. He stated that the Saudis conveyed during the recent weeks their intention to reduce oil production, privately and publicly, knowing this would increase Russian revenues and blunt the effectiveness of sanctions.

In reaction, President Biden issued a vague warning to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, pledged “consequences” and vowed to “take action.” The US claimed that OPEC Plus is aligning with Russia.

Of course, Biden is concerned that decreased oil output could push up the price of gasoline right before the November 8 US midterm elections, when Democrats will defend their control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Meanwhile, some Senate Democrats are demanding a swift and concrete response.

In a strong expression of US anger over the Saudi oil-production cuts, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez called for freezing all US cooperation with Saudi Arabia on Monday. Menendez claimed that the move serves to boost Russia in its war in Ukraine.

He vowed he “will not green-light any cooperation with Riyadh until the Kingdom reassesses its position with respect to the war in Ukraine. Enough is enough.”

Gulf sources rushed to conclude that the rift between the two countries will not break ties, while pro-US sources lashed MBS and OPEC Plus for the decision and said this move proves Bin Salman is siding with Russia, and that Western leaders should abandon him.

In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, the West has gone to great lengths to isolate Russia’s economy, which relies in large part on energy exports.

As part of their economic sanctions against Moscow, the US and EU are trying to impose a cap on the price paid to Russia for its oil exports. But that effort could now collapse as global oil prices rise and Europe heads into a winter season when heating costs are expected to soar due to the Ukraine war.

OPEC Plus, which groups the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers including Russia, has refused to raise output to lower oil prices despite pressure from major consumers, including the United States.

Russia has hailed the recent decision made by OPEC Plus. The Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the remarks on October 9, saying the move successfully at least “balances the mayhem that the Americans are causing.”

It is very good that such “balanced, thoughtful and planned work of the countries, which take a responsible position within OPEC, is opposed to the actions of the US,” Peskov said.

For months, the US and Saudi monarchy have been in a tit-for-tat game, seemingly contemplating how to pressure each other in return for gains. Of course, Mohammed bin Salman has gained leverage on the international level following the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war since he controls the oil game, if possible to say.

MBS, who was described by The Economist as “one of the most dangerous leaders” of the world in September is opportunistic; he will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.

Middle East Eye quoted an academic from Tehran as saying “A senior Saudi diplomat told me that MBS started as a kid playing video games. Killing Khashoggi, starting a military intervention in Yemen which would last ‘two weeks,’ the siege of Qatar, and getting rid of [Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri were all video games for him, buttons you can press, enemies disappearing from the screen. Out of necessity, he is becoming more strategic.”

“Strategic maturity does not come from what you would like to have. It comes out of necessity,” the academic said. “I don’t think the Saudis decided to move beyond that strategic relationship with America. The American hand is still strong. But there are differences happening. The Americans are not seen with the same confidence that was seen in Riyadh.”

By the OPEC Plus move, yes, MBS has shown his influence over the global oil market, but he did upset the foreign policy establishment in Washington. Of course, Washington will not want to risk oil security which is in the hands of the kingdom to a great extent, or drive Riyadh closer to Russia and China; a too simplistic of a prediction. Saudi Arabia still cannot make it through without the US, but Biden needs to take action for the Saudi humiliation.

A serious issue remains in question; what will happen to the West as winter becomes harsher in light of power cuts, the absence of hot water and scarcity and high prices of oil?

Also on the current rift, will Biden invite MBS to Washington and “spank” him like the Saudi game boy did to Lebanon’s Hariri, perhaps in one way or another? Will relations deteriorate and the world see different coalitions as the US says it will reconsider relations with the Saudi monarchy? Or will this be just another bruise in ties between the oil-rich country and the imperialist US before the two resume their US-Saudi waltz?

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Price: US to study Iran response, sanctions were not helpful

August 16, 2022 

Source: Agencies

By Al Mayadeen English 

Salma Al-Shehab, a student at Leeds University and a mother of two, is charged with following and retweeting dissidents and activists on Twitter by Riyadh’s so-called “special terrorist court”.

Salma al-Shehab, a student at Leeds University and a mother of 2

A Saudi university student who had returned home for a vacation was sentenced to 34 years in prison for following and retweeting dissidents and activists on her personal Twitter account. 

The sentence was handed down by Saudi Arabia’s so-called “special terrorist court” just weeks after US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Kingdom, which human rights activists warned could give Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) a green light to intensify his crackdown on dissidents and other pro-democracy activists.

See more: Biden claims human rights on agenda during Saudi Arabia visit

The case poses evidence of how MBS has targeted Twitter users in his repression campaign, while also controlling a significant indirect stake in the US social media company through Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

In MBS’ playbook, Tweeting is a crime

Salma Al-Shehab, a 34-year-old mother of two, aged four and six, was initially sentenced to three years in prison for the “crime” of using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilize civil and national security.” 

However, an appeals court handed down the new sentence on Monday – 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban – after a public prosecutor requested that the court consider other alleged crimes.

Shehab was not a prominent or particularly vocal Saudi activist, neither in Saudi Arabia nor in the United Kingdom. 

On Instagram, where she had only 159 followers, she described herself as a dental hygienist, medical educator, PhD student at Leeds University, lecturer at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, wife, and mother to her sons, Noah and Adam.

Her Twitter profile listed 2,597 followers. She regularly shared pictures of her young children and tweets about Covid burnout.

Shehab rarely retweeted posts from Saudi dissidents in exile calling for the release of political prisoners in the Kingdom.

The PhD student appeared to support the case of Loujain Al-Hathloul, a prominent Saudi feminist activist who was previously imprisoned and tortured for advocating for women’s driving rights, and is now subject to a travel ban.

Someone who knew Shehab said she couldn’t stand injustice. She was described as well-educated and a voracious reader who had moved to the UK in 2018 or 2019 to pursue her PhD at the University of Leeds. 

She had returned to Saudi Arabia for a vacation in December 2020, intending to bring her two children and husband with her. Saudi authorities then summoned her for questioning, and she was eventually arrested and tried for her tweets.

Of secret torture and oppressed revelations  

In further detail, a person who followed her case revealed that Shehab had been held in solitary confinement at times and had sought to privately tell the judge details about how she had been treated that she did not want to reveal in front of her father during the trial.

She was not permitted to communicate the message to the judge, as per the source. Three judges signed the appeals verdict, but their signatures were illegible.

See more: Human Rights Watch Report Reveals New Details About Torture in Saudi Prisons

On its account, Twitter declined to comment on the case and did not respond to specific questions about Saudi Arabia’s influence over the company, according to the Guardian.

It is worth noting that Twitter previously did not respond to questions about why a senior aide to MBS, Bader Al-Asaker, was allowed to keep a verified Twitter account with more than 2 million followers, despite US government allegations that he orchestrated an illegal infiltration of the company, leading to the identification and imprisonment of anonymous Twitter users by the Saudi government. A former Twitter employee has been convicted in the case by a US court.

The Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns more than 5% of Twitter through his investment company, Kingdom Holdings, is one of Twitter’s most significant investors. 

While bin Talal remains the company’s chairman, his authority over the company was called into question by the US media, including the Wall Street Journal, after it was revealed that the Saudi royal – a cousin of the crown prince – had been held captive at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh for 83 days. 

See more: MBS after Saudi royals, again

The incident was part of a larger purge led by MBS against other members of the royal family and businessmen, which involved allegations of torture, coercion, and the expropriation of billions of dollars from Saudi Arabian coffers.

In May, Kingdom Holding announced that it had sold approximately 17% of its company to the PIF, of which bin Salman is chairman, for $1.5 billion. As a result, the Saudi government is a significant indirect investor in Twitter. According to Twitter, investors have no influence over the company’s day-to-day operations.

“MBS’s ruthless repression machine”

The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights condemned Shehab’s sentence, which it said was the longest ever imposed on an activist. It was noted that many female activists had been subjected to unfair trials that resulted in arbitrary sentences, as well as “severe torture,” including sexual harassment.

Khalid Aljabri, a Saudi living in exile whose sister and brother are detained in Saudi Arabia, said the Shehab case demonstrated Saudi Arabia’s view that dissent equals terrorism.

“Salman’s draconian sentencing in a terrorism court over peaceful tweets is the latest manifestation of MBS’s ruthless repression machine,” he said.

“Just like [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s assassination, her sentencing is intended to send shock waves inside and outside the kingdom – dare to criticize MBS and you will end up dismembered or in Saudi dungeons.”

While the case has received little attention, the Washington Post published a sarcastic editorial about Saudi Arabia’s treatment of the Leeds student on Tuesday, stressing that her case demonstrated that the “commitments” the US President received on  reforms were “a farce.”

“At the very least, Mr. Biden must now speak out forcefully and demand that Ms. Shehab be released and allowed to return to her sons, 4 and 6 years old, in the United Kingdom, and to resume her studies there,” it read.

Read more: Former Saudi Spymaster: MBS Is a “Psychopath” Who Planned to Kill King Abdullah

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US Approves Massive Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE

August 3, 2022

By Staff, Agencies

The United States has approved massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates worth more than $5 billion, amid criticism of their ongoing military aggression in Yemen which has inflicted heavy civilian casualties.

The notice of approval came on Tuesday, two weeks after US President Joe Biden made a controversial trip to Saudi Arabia and met with Saudi leaders in an effort to reset strained relations with Riyadh.

The State Department said Saudi Arabia would buy 300 Patriot MIM-104E missile systems and related equipment for an estimated $3.05 billion. The missile systems can be used to shoot long-range incoming ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as fighter jets.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a partner country that is a force for political stability and economic progress in the Gulf region,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The proposed sale will improve the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s capability to meet current and future threats by replenishing its dwindling stock of PATRIOT GEM-T missiles,” it added.

Separately, the United States will sell Terminal High Altitude Area Defense [THAAD] System Missiles and related equipment to the UAE for $2.25 billion.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an important regional partner. The UAE is a vital US partner for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” the State Department said.

Although Tuesday’s approvals are for defensive weapons, they may still draw opposition in Congress, where lawmakers backed the Biden administration’s decision last year to ban US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE because of their actions in Yemen.

The Biden administration is also considering lifting its ban on US sales of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Since the beginning of the war in 2015, the use of US weapons by the Saudi-led coalition in airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen has been well documented.

As a candidate, Biden had vowed to make the Saudi kingdom a “pariah” on the global stage over the war in Yemen as well as the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist and political dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

Soon after taking office, Biden appeared to be delivering on the promise, when he declared in February 2021 a halt to US support for the Saudi military operations in Yemen, including “relevant arms sales.”

His administration also released US intelligence findings that concluded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS] personally approved the operation targeting Khashoggi.

Biden, however, has softened his approach in recent months, moving to improve US relations with Saudi Arabia in the hope of getting the world’s top oil exporter to increase oil production in order to offset loss of Russian supplies to the global market and drive down gasoline prices at home.

MBS: Despot in The Desert

July 31, 2022 

Nicolas Pelham- The Economist

No one wanted to play football with Muhammad bin Salman. Sure, the boy was a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, but so were 15,000 other people. His classmates preferred the company of his cousins, who were higher up the assumed order of succession, a childhood acquaintance recalls. As for the isolated child who would one day become crown prince, a family friend recounts hearing him called “little Saddam”.

Home life was tricky for bin Salman, too (he is now more commonly known by his initials, [MBS]. His father, Salman, already had five sons with his first wife, an educated woman from an elite urban family. MBS’s mother, Salman’s third wife, was a tribeswoman. When MBS visited the palace where his father lived with his first wife, his older half-brothers mocked him as the “son of a Bedouin”. Later, his elder brothers and cousins were sent to universities in America and Britain. The Bedouin offspring of Prince Salman stayed in Riyadh to attend King Saud University.

As young adults, the royals sometimes cruised on superyachts together; MBS was reportedly treated like an errand boy, sent onshore to buy cigarettes. A photo from one of these holidays shows a group of 16 royals posing on a yacht-deck in shorts and sunglasses, the hills of the French Riviera behind them. In the middle is MBS’s cousin, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor dubbed “the Arabian Warren Buffett”. MBS, tall and broad-shouldered in a white t-shirt, is pushed to the farthest edge.

Fast forward to today, and MB has moved to the center of the frame, the most important decision-maker in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy but MBS’s 86-year-old father, though nominally head of state, is rarely seen in public anymore. It has been clear for several years that MBS is in charge. “In effect,” a former Saudi intelligence agent told me, “King Salman is no longer king.”

At first glance the 36-year-old prince looks like the ruler many young Saudis had been waiting for, closer in age to his people than any previous king – 70% of the Saudi population is under 30. The millennial autocrat is said to be fanatical about the video game “Call of Duty”: he blasts through the inertia and privileges of the mosque and royal court as though he were fighting virtual opponents on screen.

His restless impatience and disdain for convention have helped him push through reforms that many thoughts wouldn’t happen for generations. The most visible transformation of Saudi Arabia is the presence of women in public where once they were either absent or closely guarded by their husband or father. There are other changes, too. Previously, the kingdom offered few diversions besides praying at the mosque; today you can watch Justin Bieber in concert, sing karaoke or go to a Formula 1 race. A few months ago, I even went to a rave in a hotel….

But embracing Western consumer culture doesn’t mean embracing Western democratic values: it can as easily support a distinctively modern, surveillance state. On my recent trips to Saudi Arabia, people from all levels of society seemed terrified about being overheard voicing disrespect or criticism, something I’d never seen there before. “I’ve survived four kings,” said a veteran analyst who refused to speculate about why much of Jeddah, the country’s second-largest city, is being bulldozed: “Let me survive a fifth.”

The West, beguiled by promises of change and dependent on Saudi oil, at first seemed prepared to ignore MBS’s excesses. Then, in late 2018, Saudi officials in Istanbul murdered a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, and dismembered his body with a bone saw. Even the most pro-Saudi leaders turned away.

…. After Putin invaded Ukraine in February, the price of crude shot up. Boris Johnson was on a plane within weeks. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, previously a sworn enemy of the crown prince, embraced MBS in Riyadh in April. War even forced America’s president into a humiliating climbdown. On the campaign trail in 2020 Joe Biden had vowed to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah”. But on July 15th he went to make his peace with MBS– trying to avoid shaking MBS’s hand, he instead opted for a fist bump that left the two looking all the chummier. Even critics at home acknowledged MBs’s victory. “He made Biden look weak,” said a Saudi columnist in Jeddah. “He stood up to a superpower and won before the world.”

For MBS, this is a moment of triumph. His journey from the fringe of a photograph to the heart of power is almost complete. He will probably be king for decades. During that time, his country’s oil will be needed to sate the world’s enduring demand for energy.

A kingdom where the word of one man counts for so much depends utterly on his character. The hope is that, with his position secure, MBS will forswear the vengefulness and intolerance that produced Khashoggi’s murder. But some, among them his childhood classmates, fear something darker. They are reminded of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, a one-time modernizer who became so addicted to accumulating power that he turned reckless and dangerous. “At first power bestows grandeur,” a former Western intelligence officer told me, of MBS. “But then comes the loneliness, suspicion and fear that others will try to grab what you grabbed.”

During the early years of MBS’s ascent, I was vaguely aware of him as one prince among many. I probably wouldn’t have paid him much attention if an old contact of mine hadn’t joined his staff. His new boss, my contact said, was serious about shaking things up. He arranged the meeting at a faux-ancient mud-brick village on the outskirts of Riyadh in 2016. As my Economist colleagues and I approached, the gates of MBS’s compound suddenly slid open, like a Bond-villain’s lair. In the inner chamber sat MBS.

Reform has often been promised in Saudi Arabia – usually in response to American hectoring – but successive kings lacked the mettle to push change through. When the Al-Saud conquered Arabia in the 1920s, they made an alliance with an ultra-conservative religious group called the Wahhabis. In 1979, after a group of religious extremists staged a brief armed takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the Al-Saud decided to make the kingdom more devout to fend off a possible Islamic revolution, as had just happened in Iran. Wahhabi clerics were empowered to run society as they saw fit.

The Wahhabis exercised control through the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, otherwise known as the religious police. They whacked the ankles of women whose hair poked through their veil and lashed the legs of men who wore shorts. The arrangement suited the House of Saud. Wahhabism provided social control and gave legitimacy to the Saudi state, leaving the royals free to enjoy their oil wealth in the more permissive environments of London and Paris, or behind the gates of their palaces.

I’m loth to admit it now, but as the prince talked in Riyadh about his plans to modernize society and the economy, I was impressed by his enthusiasm, vision and command of the details. He gave what turned out to be accurate answers about how and when his reforms would happen. Though he was not yet crown prince, he frequently referred to Saudi Arabia as “my” country. We arrived at around 9pm. At 2am, MBS was still in full flow.

MBS was affable, self-assured, smiling. His advisers were more subdued. If they spoke at all, it was to robotically repeat their master’s lines. Yet when MBS left the room to take a call, they started chatting animatedly. As the prince re-entered, silence fell.

Like many in those early years, I was excited about what MBS might do for the kingdom. When I returned to the capital a few months later I saw a number of men wearing shorts. I kept looking over my shoulder for the religious police, but none came – they had been stripped of their powers of arrest.

As crown prince, MBS introduced a code of law so that judicial sentencing accords with state guidelines, not a judge’s own interpretation of the Koran. He criminalized stoning to death and forced marriage. The most overt change involved the role of women. MBS attacked guardianship laws that prevented women from working, travelling, owning a passport, opening a business, having hospital treatment or divorcing without approval from a male relative. In practice, many Saudi women have found these new rights hard to claim in a patriarchal society, and men can still file claims of disobedience against female relatives. But MBS’s reforms were more than cosmetic. Some clerics were jailed; the rest soon fell into line.

For foreigners, Riyadh is less forbidding these days. “I’m afraid I’ll be caught for not drinking,” a teetotal businessman told me. “There’s cocaine, alcohol and hookers like I haven’t seen in southern California,” says another party-goer. “It’s really heavy-duty stuff”.

When MBS first entered public life, he had a reputation for being as strait-laced as his father, rare among royals. That quickly changed. Many of the people interviewed for this article said that they believe MBS frequently uses drugs, which he denies. A court insider says that in 2015 his friends decided that he needed some r&r on an island in the Maldives. According to investigative journalists Bradley Hope and Justin Scheck in their book “Blood and Oil”, 150 models were recruited to join the gathering and were then shuttled “by golf cart to a medical center to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases”. Several international music stars were flown in, including Afrojack, a Dutch dj. Then the press blew MBS cover.

Thereafter, the prince preferred to unwind off the Red Sea coast. At weekends his entourage formed a flotilla by mooring their yachts around his, Serene, which has a driving range and a cinema. According to a former official, “dj MBS”, as his friends called him, would spin the discs wearing his trademark cowboy hat. The yacht is only one of the luxuries MBS has splurged on. He also bought a £230m ersatz French chateau near Versailles, built in 2008 (the meditation room doubles as an aquarium). He is said to have boasted that he wanted to be the first trillionaire.

We put these and other allegations in this article to MBS’s representatives. Through the Saudi embassy in London, they issued a broad denial, saying “the allegations are denied and are without foundation.”

MBS’s loosening of social mores reflects the values of many of his youthful peers, in Saudi and beyond – as does his taste for the flashier side of life. Yet despite the social revolution, the prince is no keener than Wahhabi clerics on letting people think for themselves. Shortly before lifting a ban on women driving in 2018, MBS’s officials imprisoned Loujain al-Hathloul, one of the leaders of the campaign for women’s rights. Her family say jailers waterboarded and electrocuted her, and that Saud al-Qahtani, one of MBS’s closest advisers, was present during her torment and threatened to rape her. [A un investigation found reasonable grounds to believe that Qahtani was involved in the torture of female activists. Qahtani allegedly told one of these women: “I’ll do whatever I like to you, and then I’ll dissolve you and flush you down the toilet.”] Hathloul was charged with inciting change to the ruling system. The message was clear: only one person was allowed to do that.

MBS is ruthlessly ambitious – he reportedly loved reading about Alexander the Great as a teenager – but he also owes his rise to some extraordinary twists of fortune. Succession can be an unpredictable affair in Saudi Arabia. The monarchy is only two generations old, founded in 1932, and the crown has so far moved from brother to brother among the founding ruler’s sons. That has become harder as the prospective heirs age. MBS’s father wasn’t tipped to be king, but after his two older brothers died unexpectedly in 2011 and 2012, he was catapulted up the line of succession.

When Salman became the heir-designate aged 76, he needed a chief of staff. Most courtiers expected him to choose one of the suave, English-speaking children of his first wife. Instead he appointed a son who spoke Arabic with a guttural Bedouin accent. [MBS has learned English fast since then: when we met in 2016 he sometimes corrected his translator.]

The choice to elevate MBS was less surprising to those who knew his father well. Salman had dedicated himself to his job as governor of Riyadh rather than chasing more lucrative commissions, and was a stickler for 8am starts, even in his 70s. He was known as the family disciplinarian, not averse to giving wayward royals a thwack with his walking stick or even a spell in his private prison. He clearly saw something of himself in his sixth son. MBS might love video games, but he was also a hard worker and keen to advance.

MBS put few limits on what he was prepared to do to achieve control. He earned the nickname Abu Rasasa – father of the bullet – after widespread rumors that he sent a bullet in the post to an official who ruled against him in a land dispute [Saudi officials have previously denied this rumor]. He was fearsome in private, too. “There are these terrible tempers, smashing up offices, trashing the palace,” says a source with palace connections. “He’s extremely violent.” Several associates describe him as having wild mood swings. Two former palace insiders say that, during an argument with his mother, he once sprayed her ceiling with bullets. According to multiple sources and news reports, he has locked his mother away.

It’s hard to say how many wives he has; officially, there’s just one, a glamorous princess called Sara bint Mashour, but courtiers say he has at least one more. MBS presents his family life as normal and happy: earlier this year he told the Atlantic magazine that he eats breakfast with his children each morning [he has three boys and two girls, according to Gulf News – the eldest is said to be 11]. One diplomat spoke of MBS’s kindness to his wife. But other sources inside the royal circle say that, on at least one occasion, Princess Sara was so badly beaten by her husband that she had to seek medical treatment.

We put this and other allegations in this piece to MBS’s representatives, who described them as “plain fabrication”, adding that “the kingdom is unfortunately used to false allegations made against its leadership, usually based on politically [or other] motivated malicious sources, particularly discredited individuals who have a long record of fabrications and baseless claims.”

MBS finally got a taste of political power in 2015 when Salman became king. Salman appointed his son deputy crown prince and minister of defense. One of MBS’s first moves was to launch a war in neighboring Yemen. Even America, the kingdom’s closest military ally, was told only at the last minute.

There was an obvious obstacle in MBS’s path to the throne: his cousin, the 57-year-old heir-designate, Muhammad bin Nayef. Bin Nayef was the intelligence chief and the kingdom’s main interlocutor with the CIA. He was widely credited with stamping out al-Qaeda in Saudi after 9/11. In June 2017 bin Nayef was summoned to meet the elderly king at his palace in Mecca.

The story of what happened next has emerged from press reports and my interviews. It seems that bin Nayef arrived by helicopter and took the lift to the fourth floor. Instead of the monarch, MBS’sagents were waiting. Bin Nayef was stripped of his weapons and phone, and told that a royal council had dismissed him. He was left alone to consider his options. Seven hours later, a court videographer filmed the charade of MBS kissing his cousin, then accepting his abdication as crown prince. King Salman kept a back seat throughout. Bin Nayef is now in detention [his uncle, who also had a claim to the throne, apparently intervened to try and protect bin Nayef, but was himself later detained]. The staged resignation – an old trick of Saddam Hussein’s – would become MBS’s signature move.

That was just the warm-up act. In October 2017 MBS hosted an international investment conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. At “Davos in the desert”, the likes of Christine Lagarde, Son Masayoshi and other business glitterati listened to MBS’s pitch for Saudi Arabia’s post-oil future, including the construction of Neom, a new $500bn “smart city”. The event was a hit. Diplomatic grumblings about the war in Yemen or the fate of America’s security partner, Muhammad bin Nayef, faded.

The gathering was also an opportunity to invite back royals who were often abroad. Once the foreigners had left, MBS pounced. Hundreds of princes and businessmen were swept up. According to a biography of MBS by Ben Hubbard, a New York Times journalist, one of them realized something was amiss only when they got to their hotel room: there were no pens, razors or glasses – nothing that could be used as a weapon.

MBS held the detainees in the Ritz-Carlton for several weeks [the Marriott and other hotels were also commandeered to house the overflow]. Prisoners’ phones were confiscated. Some were said to have been hooded, deprived of sleep and beaten until they agreed to transfer money and hand over an inventory of their assets. All told, MBS’s guests at the Ritz-Carlton coughed up about $100bn.

Even royals previously thought untouchable, such as the powerful prince who ran the national guard, got similar treatment. Princess Basma, the youngest child of the second king of Saudi Arabia, was jailed for three years without charge or access to a lawyer; after being released she still had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet, according to a close associate of hers.

The crushing of the royals and business elite was billed as a crackdown on corruption – and undoubtedly it netted many corruptly acquired assets, which MBS said would be returned to the Saudi treasury. The methods, however, looked more like something from a gangster film than a judicial procedure.

Interrogations were overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, who reported directly to MBS whenever a detainee broke and gave out their bank details. [All the allegations in this piece concerning Qahtani were put to him via his lawyer. No response was given.] Qahtani had installed himself as one of MBS’s favored henchmen, though earlier in his career, he’d plotted against Salman and his son, trying to sideline them with rumors that Salman had dementia. Qahtani was so loyal to the former faction that he’d named his son after his then boss. According to a former courtier, on the day of the old king’s funeral the two men had it out: MBS slapped Qahtani in the face. Later, MBS let Qahtani prove his worth and brought him on to his staff. Qahtani duly named his younger son Muhammad.

On paper, Qahtani was a communications adviser, a former journalist who understood Twitter and used an army of bots and loyal followers to intimidate critics on social media [his office included giant screens and holograms that staff used for target-practice with laser guns]. In practice he was entrusted with MBS’s most important and violent missions – the ones that established his grip on power.

His remit extended far beyond Saudi’s borders. In 2016 he kidnapped Prince Sultan, a minor royal who had been bad-mouthing MBS. MBS offered his jet to fly Sultan from Paris to Cairo – instead, the plane was diverted to Saudi Arabia. According to Hope’s and Scheck’s book, Qahtani posed as Captain Saud, an airline pilot, though surprisingly one who had an expensive Hublot watch.

Even people who have nothing to do with politics have become afraid to speak near a functioning mobile phone

With rendition strategies like this, and the cash tap shut off, even royals who weren’t inside the Ritz-Carlton felt the pressure to divest themselves of ostentatious assets. The father of the Saudi ambassador to Britain put Glympton Park, his beloved 2,000-acre estate in the Cotswolds, up for sale. Riyadh’s jewellers did a roaring trade pawning the diamonds of lesser royals. “It’s like the Romanovs selling their Fabergé eggs,” said an adviser to an auction house.

Many commoners rejoiced at the downfall of their entitled elite. Princes and princesses who once lived off huge handouts began looking for jobs. Their titles became irrelevant. Unable to afford the cost of irrigation, their green ranches became desert again. Banks turned them away. One financial adviser recalled his response to princes trying to get credit on the strength of their royal status: “You call yourselves princes, but they say there’s only one prince now.”

The Ritz-Carlton episode was just one element of an extraordinary project of centralization. MBS yanked control of various security services back from the princes. He took charge of Aramco, the semi-autonomous state oil company. He installed himself as boss of the sovereign-wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. “He destroyed all the powerful families,” says a retired diplomat. By late 2017, law, money and security in Saudi all flowed directly from him.

Among those who lost out were the fellow princes who had pushed a young MBS to the edge of the family photo on the yacht all those years ago. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in the center of that shot, surrendered part of his $17bn wealth. As the shakedown widened, MBS’s elder half-siblings put up their yacht for sale. Many of his cousins were locked up. “Payback time,” one victim said.

While MBS was squeezing the elite at home, he was forging some important friendships abroad.

MBS and Donald Trump, who was elected president in 2016, had a lot in common. Both had the hunger of the underdog and loathed the snooty policymaking establishments in their countries; they reveled in provocation. The historic compact, by which Saudi Arabia provided oil to American consumers and America guaranteed the country’s security, had frayed in recent years. Barack Obama’s hurried exit from Iraq in 2011 and his nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 had left Saudi Arabia worried that it could no longer rely on American protection. America’s development of its own shale-oil reserves had also reduced its dependence on Saudi oil. Then Trump and MBS got cozy.

With the Trump administration’s tacit [and sometimes explicit] support, MBS set about treating the entire Middle East much as he did Saudi Arabia, trying to push aside rulers whom he found to be inconvenient. He announced a blockade of Qatar, a tiny gas-rich state to the east of Saudi Arabia. In 2017, angered by Lebanon’s dealings with Iran, MBS invited the prime minister, Saad Hariri, a long-time beneficiary of Saudi patronage, on a starlit camping trip. Hariri turned up, had his phone confiscated and soon found himself reading out a resignation speech on tv.

Both moves ultimately backfired. But Trump’s Middle East adviser, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, did little to discourage such antics. Together, he and MBS dreamt up a new regional order over WhatsApp, calling each other “Jared” and “Muhammad”. Their rapport was so great that, at Kushner’s prompting, MBS started the process of recognizing “Israel”. His father, still officially king, put a stop to that.

MBS visited America in March 2018, hanging out in Silicon Valley with Peter Thiel and Tim Cook, and meeting celebrities, including Rupert Murdoch, James Cameron and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. Many people were keen to meet the man who controlled a $230bn sovereign-wealth fund. To his frustration, they were less willing to reciprocate by investing in the kingdom.

That October the intercontinental bonhomie came to an abrupt halt. I was due to go to a conference in Turkey that month. A Saudi journalist I knew, Jamal Khashoggi, got in touch to suggest meeting up: he was also going to be in Istanbul, for an appointment at the consulate. Khashoggi was a court insider whose criticisms of MBS in the Washington Post and elsewhere had attracted much attention. He seemed to be making more effort than usual to stay in touch. While I was at the conference a friend of his phoned me: Jamal still hadn’t emerged from the consulate, he said. By the time I got there, Turkish police were cordoning off the building.

The full story soon came out in leaked intelligence reports and, later, a un inquiry. A Saudi hit squad, which reportedly coordinated with Saud al-Qahtani, had flown to Istanbul. As they waited for Khashoggi to enter the consulate, they discussed plans for dismembering his body. According to tapes recorded inside the consulate by Turkish intelligence, Khashoggi was told, “We’re coming to get you.” There was a struggle, followed by the sound of plastic sheets being wrapped. A CIA report said that MBS approved the operation.

MBS has said he takes responsibility for the murder, but denies ordering it. He sacked Qahtani and another official implicated in the intelligence reports. The fallout was immediate. Companies and speakers pulled out of that year’s Davos in the desert; the Gates Foundation ended its partnership with Misk, an artistic and educational charity set up by the prince. Ari Emanuel, a Hollywood agent, cancelled a $400m deal with the kingdom.

The crown prince seems to have been genuinely surprised at the animus – “disappointed”, says an associate. Hadn’t he committed to all the reforms the West had been asking for? Perhaps he had underestimated the outcry provoked by going after a well-connected international figure, as opposed to a royal unknown outside Saudi Arabia. Or perhaps he understood Western governments’ priorities better than they did themselves. They had done little when Muhammad bin Nayef, their partner in battling terrorism, had disappeared; they had shrugged at reports of torture in the Ritz-Carlton, and at MBS’s reckless bombardment of Yemen. Why did they have so much to say about the killing of a single journalist?

Three years after the Khashoggi killing, Davos in the desert opened with the singer Gloria Gaynor. As images of smiling children flashed up on a giant screen behind her, she broke into her disco anthem, “I Will Survive”, asking the audience: “Did you think I’d crumble? Did you think I’d lay down and die?”

The chief executives of private-equity giants BlackRock and Blackstone were back, as were the heads of Goldman Sachs, SocGen and Standard Chartered. Even Amazon sent a representative despite the fact that its boss, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post, the paper that employed Khashoggi. Meanwhile, Qahtani was creeping back into favor at the royal court – although he had been implicated by the un for Khashoggi’s murder, a Saudi court took the decision not to charge him.

MBS revitalized the near-dormant sovereign-wealth fund, pumping tens of billions of dollars into tech, entertainment and sports, to create a softer, more appealing image of Saudi and co-opt new partners. In April 2020, the fund led a consortium to buy Newcastle United, a premier-league football team [the deal took 18 months]. The following year it launched an audacious bid to create Saudi’s own golf tour, the LIV series, hoping to lure players with a prize pot of $255m, far larger than that of American tournaments. At the first LIV tour this year, some top players boycotted the event, others went for the cash.

Joe Biden has proved tougher to woo. Soon after becoming president, Biden withdrew American military support for the war in Yemen. He wouldn’t talk to MBS, insisting that communications go through King Salman instead. He didn’t even nominate an ambassador to Riyadh for 15 months. The chat everywhere was that Saudi-American relations were in a deep freeze. Then, in February 2022, MBS had a stroke of luck: Russia invaded Ukraine.

In the days after war broke out, Biden himself tried to call MBS. The crown prince declined to speak to the president. He did take Putin’s call, however. The two men were already close. MBS had personally brought Russia into an expanded version of the OPEC cartel in order for Saudi Arabia to keep control of global oil production. Putin cemented the friendship in 2018 at the g20 summit in Buenos Aires, which took place weeks after the Khashoggi killing. While Western leaders shunned MBS, Putin gave the Saudi ruler a high-five before sitting down next to him.

MBS’s defiance of America seems to have paid off. After months of evasion, Biden reluctantly agreed to meet MBS in Jeddah in July, on the prince’s own turf and his own terms. The visit gave MBS recognition but did little to rebuild relations. There wasn’t even a concrete assurance of increasing oil production.

Some in the American foreign-policy establishment remain hopeful that MBS could become a helpful partner in the region, pointing to his recent retreat from confrontation with Qatar and his eagerness to find a diplomatic exit from Yemen. Perhaps, they say, he is maturing as a leader.

This seems optimistic. MBS’s disastrous campaign in Yemen was ostensibly in support of the country’s president but in April, hours after being summoned to a meeting and offered Arabic coffee and dates, Yemen’s president was reading out a resignation speech on tv. MBS took it upon himself to get rid of him personally – suggesting that his mode of international diplomacy remains as high-handed as ever. “What they’ve learned”, says one foreign analyst, “is don’t murder journalists who dine regularly with congressmen in the United States.”

The West has taught MBS something else, too – something that autocrats the world over may draw comfort from. No matter the sin, they would argue, if you sit tight through the odium and fury, eventually the financiers, the celebrities, even the Western leaders, will come running back. At 36, MBS has time on his side. Some observers fear that he may become only more dangerous as oil reserves start to decline and the treasure trove shrinks. “What happens when he’s a middle-aged man ruling a middle-income country and starts to get bored?” asks a diplomat who knows MBS personally. “Will he go on more adventures?”

Earlier this year, I visited an old friend in his office in Saudi Arabia. Before we started talking, he put his phone in a pouch that blocks the signal, to prevent government spies from listening in. Dissidents do that kind of thing in police states like China, but I’d never seen it before in Saudi Arabia. It isn’t just people involved with politics who are taking such precautions: most Saudis have become afraid to speak near a functioning mobile phone. People used to talk fairly openly in their offices, homes and cafés. Now, they are picked up for almost nothing.

As we chatted over the whir of his office air conditioning, my friend reeled off a list of people he knew who had been detained in the past month: a retired air-force chief who died in prison, a hospital administrator hauled away from his desk, a mother taken in front of her seven children, a lawyer who died seven days after his release from prison. “These people aren’t rabble rousers,” my friend said. “No one understands why.”

Officially, the government says it has no political prisoners. Rights groups reckon that thousands have been swept up in MBS’s dragnet. I’ve covered the Middle East since the 1990s and can’t think of anywhere where so many of my own contacts are behind bars.

Few ordinary Saudis predicted that when MBS was done trampling on the elites and the clerics, he would come for them next. Bringing Saudis into the modern, networked, online world has made it easier for the state to monitor what they are saying. A Red Crescent employee called Abdulrahman al-Sadhan used to run a satirical Twitter account under a pseudonym. In 2018 MBS’s agents arrested him and held him incommunicado for two years. American prosecutors later charged two former Twitter employees with allegedly handing over the real names behind various accounts to a Saudi official – al-Sadhan’s family believes that his name was among them. [The trial of one employee is ongoing; he denies passing on information to Saudi officials.]

On the face of it, MBS has nothing to worry about. Public opinion polls – if they can be trusted – suggest he is popular, particularly with younger Saudis. But there is a growing sense that discontent is brewing beneath the surface. MBS has broken crucial social contracts with the Saudi populace, by reducing handouts while, at the same time, dispensing with the tradition of hearing the feedback of ordinary people after Friday prayers.

It isn’t hard to imagine some of the issues they’d raise if they had the chance. Many people are struggling as the cost of living rises. When other governments were cushioning their citizens during the pandemic, MBS slashed fuel subsidies and tripled vat. Unable to afford the cost of pumping water, some farmers left crops to wither in the field. Fees for permits and fines have spiraled, too. Though MBS speaks eloquently about the country’s youth, he is struggling to find them jobs. Unemployment remains stubbornly stuck in double digits. Half of the jobless have a university degree, but most white-collar workers I met on MBS’s mega-projects were foreign.

Saudi Arabia’s attempts to diversify its economy – and so compensate for the long-term decline of oil reserves – isn’t going well either. The pandemic delayed plans for a rapid increase in international tourism. Extorting billions of dollars from your relatives may not be the best way to convince investors that the kingdom is a liberal haven.

The young prince has reversed even the baby steps towards democracy taken by previous kings. Municipal elections have been suspended – as a cost-cutting exercise, explains the supine press. The Shura Council, a consultative body of 150 people, has only met online since the pandemic [other institutions have gathered in person for months]. “I wish I had more of a voice,” said one member. Whenever I mentioned the prince, his leg twitched.

A frequent visitor to the royal court says MBS now gives the impression of someone who’s always thinking that people are plotting against him. He seems to be preoccupied with loyalty. He fills key posts either with young royals, foreigners with no local base to threaten him or people he has already broken. A government minister, Ibrahim Assaf, was one of those locked up in the Ritz-Carlton – two months later MBS sent him to the World Economic Forum as his representative. A senior executive on one of his construction projects is someone who says he was tortured in one of his prisons. “He went from being strung naked from his ankles, beaten and stripped of all his assets to a high-level project manager,” says a close acquaintance of the man.

All remain vulnerable to MBS’s tantrums. Saudi sources say he once locked a minister in a toilet for ten hours. [The minister later appeared on tv blabbering platitudes about the prince’s wisdom.] A senior official I’ve spoken to says he wants out. “Everyone in his circle is terrified of him,” says an insider. And that could make it hard for him to govern a country of 35m people effectively. Former courtiers say no one close to MBS is prepared to offer a truthful assessment of whether his increasingly grandiose schemes are viable. “Saying no”, says one, “is not something they will ever do.”

If MBS has a mission beyond extending his power, you might expect to find it in Neom, the city he promised to build in the desert. Neom would be nothing less than “a civilizational leap for humanity”, he said in 2017. Head-spinning details followed. The city’s food would be grown on hydroponic walls on a floating structure. It would be powered by the world’s largest green-hydrogen plant. Thousands of snow-blowers would create a ski resort on a nearby mountain. One day it would have driverless cars and passenger drones.

According to the official timetable, the main city would be completed by 2020. Further districts would be added by 2025. The prince’s tourism minister, Ahmed al-Khateeb, dismissed rumors that the timetable was proving over-ambitious. “Come see with your eyes and not with your ears,” he urged. So, I went.

Finding Neom was the first problem. There were no road signs to it. After three hours’ drive we came to the spot indicated by the map. It was bare, but for the odd fig tree. Camels strolled across the empty highway. Piles of rubble lined the road, remnants of the town bulldozed to make way for the mighty metropolis.

The designated area is nearly the size of Belgium. As far as I could tell, only two projects had been completed, MBS’s palace, and something Google Earth calls “The Neom Experience Centre” [when I drove to see it, it was obscured by a prefabricated hut]. The only other solid building I could see was a hotel constructed before Neom was conceived: The Royal Tulip. A poster in the lobby urged me to “Discover Neom”. But when I asked for a guide the hotel manager cursed my sister with Arabic vulgarities and tried to shoo me away. There was no sign of the media hub with “frictionless facilitation”, “advanced infrastructure” and “collaborative ecosystems” promised by the Neom website. Neom’s head of communications and media, Wayne Borg, said he was “out of Kingdom at present”.

The hotel restaurant was teeming with consultants – all the ones I met were foreign. I later found a Saudi project manager. “We think we’re about to start working, but every two months the consultants coin a new plan,” he told me. “They’re still doing plans of plans.” There was a kind of manic short-termism among these foreigners. Many were paid $40,000 a month, plus handsome bonuses. “It’s like riding a bull,” one of the Neom consultants told me. “You know you’re gonna fall, that no one can last on a bull longer than a minute and a half, two minutes, so you make the most of it.”

Despite the high salaries, there are reports that foreigners are leaving the Neom project because they find the gap between expectations and reality so stressful. The head of Neom is said by his friends to be “terrified” at the lack of progress.

Eventually, I found a retired Saudi air-force technician who offered to drive me around the city for $600. He took me to a sculpture standing in the desert with the words, “I love Neom”. A short way farther on we found a new stretch of tarmac, said to mark the edge of the dream city. Beyond it, the lone and level sands stretched far away.

Macron Hosts MBS Regardless of Outrage over Khashoggi Murder

JULY 28, 2022

By Staff, Agencies

French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS] for talks in Paris on Thursday, regardless of criticism that the invitation is deeply inappropriate barely four years after the murder by Saudi agents of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The meeting is seen as the latest step in the readmission of the de-facto ruler of the kingdom into the international fold, after US President Joe Biden met him earlier this month.

The topics set to loom over the meeting include energy supply as concern grows over possible power shortages in wake of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, as well as reining in the nuclear program of Riyadh’s top regional foe Iran.

“I feel profoundly troubled by the visit, because of what it means for our world and what is means for Jamal [Khashoggi] and people like him,” Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told AFP, describing MBS as a man who “does not tolerate any dissent.”

The visits mark MBS’ first trip to the EU since the murder of Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, a crime that a UN probe described as an “extrajudicial killing for which Saudi Arabia is responsible.”

It also said there was “credible evidence” warranting further investigation of the individual liability of high-level Saudi officials, including MBS.

US intelligence agencies determined that MBS had “approved” the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, though Riyadh denies this, blaming rogue operatives.

The killing drew outrage not just over the elimination of a prominent critic of the Saudi regime, but also for the manner in which it was carried out. Khashoggi was lured into the Saudi consulate on October 2, 2018, strangled and dismembered, reportedly with a bonesaw.

His reception by world leaders is “all the more shocking given many of them at the time expressed disgust [over the killing] and a commitment not to bring MBS back into the international community,” Callamard added, denouncing the “double standard.”

But despite the concern over Saudi Arabia’s rights record, the kingdom is seen by many in the West as an essential partner due to its energy resources, purchases of weaponry and staunch opposition to Iran.

Western countries resume their relationship with Riyadh after the isolation imposed on Ibn Salma

Oil, Iran On Biden’s Agenda at Arab Summit Concluding Middle East Tour

July 18, 2022 

By Staff, Agencies

US President Joe Biden is set to discuss volatile oil prices during a summit with Arab leaders on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, the final stop of his Middle East tour, meant to bolster US positioning and knit the regional countries against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second city on the Red Sea coast, will bring together leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.

Biden landed Friday in Saudi Arabia, a longtime US ally he once vowed to make a “pariah” over its human rights record, and met with King Salman, de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other top Saudi officials.

Tensions had been high between Biden and Prince Mohammed, especially after Biden’s administration released US intelligence findings that Prince Mohammed approved an operation targeting journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose gruesome killing in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate in 2018 spurred global outrage.

Biden now appears ready to re-engage with a country that has been a key strategic ally of the United States for decades, a major supplier of oil and an avid buyer of weapons.

Washington wants the world’s largest exporter of crude to open the floodgates to bring down soaring gasoline prices, which threaten Democratic chances in November mid-term elections.

But Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, tamped down expectations of immediate progress while speaking with reporters on the flight to Jeddah.

Biden said his trip “Is about once again positioning America in this region for the future. We are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China to fill.”

At the summit, Biden was set to hear a chorus of concern about the region’s stability and security, as well as concerns about food security, climate change and the continued ‘threat of terrorism.’

Biden was under pressure to discuss the cases of Khashoggi as well as Saudis detained under what critics of Prince Mohammed described as a far-reaching crackdown on dissent.

Late Friday, Biden said he raised Khashoggi’s killing “at the top of the meeting” with Prince Mohammed and “made it clear if anything occurs like that again they will get that response and much more.”

While in the ‘Israeli’-occupied territories, Biden admitted in comments to reporters that his motives for visiting Saudi Arabia were “broader” than human rights.

“My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear, and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights.”

US military-entertainment complex cleaning up Saudi regime reputation

17 Jul 2022

Source: Politico

By Al Mayadeen English 

Saudi firms are working alongside US corporations, in tandem with Washington, to wash the slate clean.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, greets President Joe Biden, with a fist bump after his arrival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday July 15, 2022. (Saudi Press Agency)

The military-entertainment complex is at work, and this time with its most crucial client, Saudi Arabia. The US government and its giant corporation lackeys are working round the clock, along with Riyadh, to clean a reputation tarnished with pariah statuses and human rights abuses to pave the way for future cooperation and normalization – in other words, getting those strategic interests

Partnerships between celebrities and governments are becoming increasingly popular, and it is not very uncommon for private firms to take on projects to link influencers with foreign governments for some good PR. 

Recent times have seen US firms welcome a top-dollar client – Saudi Arabia – that has been attempting to launder a good reputation as it paves the way for normalization with what NATO dubs the “only democracy in the Middle East.” Within this framework and logic, “Israel” and Saudi Arabia both work to whitewash a dirty slate of endless crimes, and they’ll need to keep doing so to work together at this stage. 

“[Mohammed bin Salman] tried to launder his reputation, whitewash it through bringing in celebrities to hold concerts, to sportswash it by buying soccer clubs, and anyway he can sort of try to rehabilitate his reputation and his image,” said Seth Binder, director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “I think to my mind, President Biden’s trip is that sort of final complete rehabilitation.”

An article published in Politico exposed details of a proposal from the largest PR firm in the world, Edelman, which devised a strategy to fix Saudi Arabia’s bloody reputation – the proposal is an exhibition of how far Riyadh is willing to go to crumble its pariah status today.

The campaign, which Edelman proposed to the US Department of Justice, is a five-year-long campaign named “Search Beyond”, which will include productions with international celebrities from within the Kingdom. A former Edelman employee divulged that the celebrities were chosen strategically, and not in a random fashion. 

So the idea comes, according to the article, as follows: What if Riyadh hosted Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” from multiple locations in the country for an entire week, knowing that Noah is a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights among other humanitarian issues? Or, what if Priyanka Chopra, a staunch supporter of women’s rights and feminist activism, hops on board the campaign? Other names included famous DJs Steve Aoki and David Guetta, in addition to Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” actress Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and social media influencer Olivia Culpo. Even a partnership with world-class music festivals like Coachella is on the table. 

The cash set to be paid to celebrities, in many instances, is even far more than what they get from acting in a film. The spokespeople for Edelman themselves are being paid about $787,000 over a year of serving their Saudi clients.

This wouldn’t be the first project that Edelman is implementing with or in Saudi Arabia. The PR giant also did PR for NEOM Company – the company developing a utopian city on the Saudi coast, and it has also promoted LinkedIn in Saudi Arabia in a way that markets it as a “platform that amplified the voices of Saudi career women.”

However, “Search Beyond” is one of the most profit-bearing projects among most partnerships at home, according to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings. Edelman broke down the costs of the project into 4 categories: research, planning, and strategy; media relations and strategic partnerships; social media plan development and outreach; and client management and reporting.

Edelman also promised to “monitor online conversations and media coverage to identify ‘friends’ and detractors,” “commence a relationship-building programme of US-based media contacts,” and host “monthly client meetings.”

Ben Freeman, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, said using pop culture for their “reputational laundering campaign” is something Riyadh has been trying to do for years, whether it is through sportswashing or through Hollywood connections. 

“I think that this lobbying campaign … is a big part of the reason why Biden was able to do this trip, why this was at all possible. It’s because of places like Edelman and the other folks working for the Saudis.”

Edelman filed paperwork earlier this month with the Department of Justice to conduct public relations for an advertising company based in Saudi Arabia, with the contract costing $208,000. The Saudi company works closely with the Saudi Data Artificial Intelligence Agency.

With all these ideas up in the air and on the table, nevertheless, an MTV Entertainment spokesperson said that neither MTV nor the Daily Show were involved in “Search Beyond” and declined to comment on whether they will be willing to work with Saudi Arabia in the future. 

Hiring PR firms won’t be the first and last attempt, especially when reports arose that yesterday at the Jeddah Summit, questions pertaining to Riyadh’s pariah status and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi were censored in the media

بايدن في جولته الشرق أوسطية.. النفط مقابل حقوق الإنسان

تموز 16 2022

المصدر: الميادين نت

فاطمة فتوني 

استعراض ود بين “تل أبيب” والرياض. حقوق أفراد وشعوب في مهبّ المصالح الدولية، كيف سارت زيارة الرئيس الأميركي بايدن للمنطقة معاكسةً لاتجاه الخطاب الأميركي المعلَن بشأن حقوق الإنسان والحريات ؟

“المملكة العربية السعودية منبوذة، وستدفع ثمن مقتل الصحافي السعودي، جمال خاشقجي”. ( المتحدثة باسم البيت الأبيض كارين جان بيير ، بتاريخ 2 حزيران/يونيو 2022).

لا يزال صدى تصريح الرئيس الأميركي جو بايدن، حاضراً، عندما تعهَّد أن يجعل السعودية “منبوذة”، ربطاً بجريمة  قتل الصحافي جمال خاشقجي، عندما كان على عتبة دخول البيت الأبيض.

تصل المواجهة بين الأطلسي وروسيا إلى حدّ لم يعد بايدن يرى في السعودية إلّا النفط. أمّا جمال خاشقجي، فليس إلّا ملفّاً أُغلِق وطُوِي. وأكثر التصريحات انتقاداً، بحقّ من أثبتت الـcia تورّطه في قتل الصّحافيّ السعودي، طبعتها المجاملة والمناورات الكلامية.

من “تل أبيب” إلى الرياض لم يرَ بايدن أيَّ انتهاكاتٍ لأيّ حقوقٍ، وتجاهلَ كل القضايا التي كانت في سلَّم أولوياته، عندما فاز بالرئاسة. ومن منبوذة أميركياً، بأدلة إدانة جنائية، الى شريكة تجلس إلى الطاولة. هكذا نسف الرئيس الاميركي كل تعهداته أمام حاجته إلى النفط السعودي، وسعيه لحماية “إسرائيل” وأمنها.

عندما قام الرئيس السابق دونالد ترامب بأول زيارة رئاسية له للسعودية، تمّ الترحيب به شخصياً من جانب الملك سلمان. أمّا بايدن فكان في استقباله، في مدرج المطار، حاكم مكة والسفيرة السعودية لدى الولايات المتحدة. 

دخل بايدن القصر الملكي يتقدّمه ابن سلمان من دون حديث أو كلام، كما كانت العادة، عند استقبال أي رئيس أو مسؤول عربي أو أجنبي. مشهد عكس برودة العلاقات، التي اضطر الأميركي إلى أن يضعها على نار أزمات المنطقة من جديد. لغة الجسد قد تكون أبلغ من أي كلام. البداية كانت بمصافحة “مترددة”، حفظاً لماء الوجه، بضرب قبضتَي اليدين، بذريعة فيروس “كورونا”، علماً بأن بايدن صافح قادة “إسرائيل”، وعانق مَن قابله بقبضة اليد.

هذا اللقاء كان بايدن قال إنّه لن يحدث. لكن، من الواضح أنه لا بد منه للولايات المتحدة مع مملكة غنية بالنفط، في لحظة تغيّرات جيوسياسية، لم تحقّق من خلالها حتى الآن أي إنجاز في المواجهة مع روسيا في أوكرانيا.

يُشار إلى أنّه، حين سُئل بايدن بشأن خاشقجي، كان جوابه أن ولي العهد السعودي، محمد بن سلمان، وعد بأنه “إذا حدث أي شيء كهذا مرة أخرى، فسيكون هناك رد، وربما أكثر من ذلك كثيراً”؛ أي أن القضية أُقفلت، مع اعتراف ضمني بمسؤولية ابن سلمان عنها.

وتحدّث الرئيس الأميركي في زيارته عن إنجازات في السعودية. لكن، تبقى الملفات الكبرى متعثّرة، ولاسيما مع تأكيد حكومة صنعاء رفضَها سلاماً مُجْتَزَأً. وعلى الصعيد الاقتصادي، يشير موقع “بوليتيكو” إلى أنّ السعودية تواجه صعوبات في تحقيق أهداف إنتاج النفط.

وبين الاستقبال والإنجازات المزعومة، من جهة، وادعاء دفاع الولايات المتحدة عن حقوق الإنسان، من جهة أخرى، يبرز ملف جمال خاشقجي الذي تنكَّر بايدن لكل التعهدات التي رفعها خلال حملته الانتخابية، والقاضية بمحاسبة قتلته، كما تبرز أيضاً “تبرئة” القضاء الأميركي لـ”إسرائيل من جريمة اغتيال الصحافية الشهيدة، شيرين أبو عاقلة. وهذا الأمر يكشف زيف ازدواجية معايير حقوق الإنسان لدى الولايات المتحدة.

تبدو المحاولات الأميركية لإخفاء المبرِّر الحقيقي للزيارة متعثرة للغاية، إذ صرّح بايدن، في مؤتمر صحافي، عقده عقب لقائه قادة دول “الناتو” في قمة مدريد، بأنّ الغرض من زيارته السعودية “ليس الضغط عليها من أجل زيادة إنتاج النفط“. لكنّه أوضح، لدى سؤاله عما إذا كان سيطلب من القادة السعوديين زيادة إنتاج النفط، أنّه “يتعيّن على جميع دول الخليج زيادة إنتاج النفط، بصورة عامة، وليس السعودية على وجه الخصوص”، مشيراً إلى أنّه “يأمل أن تستنتج الدول أنّ ذلك في مصلحتها”.

ونقلت وسائل إعلام إسرائيلية، عن مصادر أميركية، قالت إنها “موثوقة”، أنّ ما يجري الحديث عنه مع زيارة الرئيس الأميركي، جو بايدن، للشرق الأوسط، “لا يتعلق بناتو شرق أوسطي، أو بحلف إسرائيلي عربي”، بل إنّ ما يهم بايدن هو موضوع النفط، و”حاجته إلى السعودية في هذا الأمر”.

ووفقاً لما ورد، فإنّ الغاية من تجاهل قضية خاشقجي، هي تعزيز إنتاج النفط وتقوية النفوذ في المنطقة خوفاً من الدور الروسي الصيني فيها، للحؤول دون نسجهما علاقات بحلفاء أميركا في الشرق الأوسط، وخصوصاً دول الخليج، التي شعرت بالخوف من تراجع اهتمام أميركا بالشرق الأوسط، بعد انسحابها من العراق وأفغانستان.

تسعى الولايات المتحدة الأميركية لاستعادة سيطرتها على موارد الطاقة في الشرق الأوسط، بعد أن أجبرتها الحرب الأوكرانية الروسية على البحث عن مصادر تمويل للطاقة لحلفائها الأوروبيين، الأمر الذي أعاد إلى النفط الخليجي وغاز البحر المتوسط أهميتيهما، بالإضافة إلى العمل على زيادة إنتاج النفط الخليجي مع خفض أسعاره، من أجل خلق استقرار في سوق الطاقة، حتى لا يتأثر الاقتصاد الأميركي، الذي يعاني حالة غير مسبوقة من التضخم المالي.

تداعيات داخلية أميركية

تعيد الولايات المتحدة الأميركية ترميم علاقتها بحلفائها، وخصوصاً السعودية، تحت شعار “المصالح الأميركية فوق المبادئ الإنسانية”. وتبرز تداعيات داخلية أميركية لمشهد زيارة بايدن للسعودية على موضوع التضخم وأسعار الطاقة، بسبب الرغبة الأميركية في زيادة إيرادات الطاقة للسوق العالمية، في ظل العقوبات على الطاقة الروسية. وبحسب المعلومات المتخصصة، فإنّ الطاقة، التي تستطيع السعودية إنتاجها وضخها، لن تكون قادرة على تعديل ميزان القوة، أو تغيير ميزان السوق.

وأثارت زيارة الرئيس الأميركي، جو بايدن، للسعودية، حالة من الانقسام في الولايات المتحدة، محورها ملفات حقوق الإنسان في المملكة، وفق تحليل لمجلة “فورين أفيرز”. وبعد الزيارة، ظهرت في الداخل الأميركي “انتقادات وسخرية” لأداء بايدن خلال الزيارة. ووفقاً للمعطيات، فإن ترجمة هذه الزيارة، عبر تحسين الوضع الاقتصادي داخل أميركا، مسألة “مشكوك فيها”.

ويرى مؤيدو زيارة بايدن للسعودية أن مصلحة الولايات المتحدة وميزان القوى في الشرق الأوسط يتطلبان علاقات أميركية سعودية استراتيجية، بعيداً عن حقوق الإنسان. والأولوية للمصالح الأميركية في الشرق الأوسط، والتي تتطلب “علاقة استراتيجية بالسعوديين”، في حين يصر المعارضون، وبينهم ديمقراطيون وأيضاً جمهوريون، على ضرورة أن تحسن الرياض سجلها فيما يتعلق بحقوق الإنسان في البلاد.

وعلى الرغم من الاختلاف الداخلي، فإن بايدن حاول تسويق الزيارة على أنها زيارة المصالح، وليست تنازلاً عن تعهداته، أو تفريطاً بحقوق الإنسان، حين سأله أحد الصحافيين في جدة عن رسالته لخطيبة خاشقجي، قال: “لم أحضر إلى هنا كي أقابل ولي العهد. جئت لأقابل مجلس التعاون الخليجي”. وعلى الرغم من ذلك، فإن مسؤولين أميركيين قالوا إنه “ليس من المتوقع صدور أي إعلان رئيس بشأن زيادة إمدادات النفط خلال هذه الزيارة”.

بايدن، القادم من فلسطين المحتلة، كان كتب في افتتاحية “واشنطن بوست” أن الحريات الأساسية هي دائماً في أجندته، خلال سفراته الخارجية، كما ستكون خلال هذه الجولة وفي “إسرائيل” والضفة الغربية. وفي كلامه هذا تبرئة للإسرائيليين عن كل انتهاكات حقوق الفلسطينيين وجرائم القتل والأسر والتمييز العنصري وسرقة الأراضي والاستيطان.

وبحسب مصادر فلسطينية، فإن بايدن لم ينجز أي شيء من زيارته لبيت لحم، ولم يحقق أي أهداف له، وخصوصاً أن الرفض الشعبي الفلسطيني الداخلي لزيارته كان واضحاً من خلال التظاهرات التي نددت بمجيئه.

الصحافيون، خلال مؤتمر بايدن الصحافي في بيت لحم، ارتدوا قمصاناً عليها صورة الشهيدة شيرين أبو عاقلة، بحيث إن سلوك القضاء الأميركي تجاه الجريمة أضاف رصيداً آخر لمسار التجاهل للقضايا الحقوقية الكبرى.

هكذا باتت حقوق الإنسان ثمناً لملء النقص في النفط وتعزيز النفوذ ومحاولة تسجيل النقاط في الصراعات الدولية، من أجل المصلحة الكبرى للولايات المتحدة، ومن أجل حسابات خاصة ببايدن في الداخل الأميركي.

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Embarrassed Biden: I Brought Khashoggi Murder With MBS

June 16, 2022 

By Staff, Agencies 

US President Joe Biden claimed that he confronted Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS] over the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, insisting the royal was personally responsible for the killing.

Speaking to reporters following a sit-down with bin Salman on Friday, Biden said he raised the issue “at the top of the meeting” and made his stance “crystal clear.”

“I said very straightforwardly: For an American president to be silent on an issue of human rights, is this consistent with – inconsistent with who we are and who I am? I’ll always stand up for our values,” he said. 

While, according to Biden, the prince denied any direct part in Khashoggi’s murder – which took place in a Saudi diplomatic building in Turkey in October 2018 – the US president went on to say he “indicated that [bin Salman] probably was” involved after all.

Asked about recent comments from Khashoggi’s widow, who said “the blood of MBS’s next victim is on [Biden’s] hands,” he simply replied: “I’m sorry she feels that way,” going on to say he does not regret dubbing the prince a “pariah” during the 2020 presidential race.

“Do I regret it? I don’t regret anything that I said. What happened to Khashoggi was outrageous,” he added.

The president has come under fire for continuing the close US-Saudi relationship despite repeated claims of rights abuses within the Gulf monarchy, chief among them Khashoggi’s assassination, which the CIA concluded was ordered by Mohammed bin Salman himself. 

Upon his arrival at Al Salman Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Friday, Biden was photographed giving a friendly fist-bump to the prince, a gesture harshly condemned by Khashoggi’s former fiancée. 

“Hey POTUS, is this the accountability you promised for my murder?” she wrote, apparently speaking from the perspective of her late spouse, while also sharing a photo of the fist-bump.

However, Biden insisted the purpose of his trip to Saudi Arabia was not to see with the prince, but rather “to meet with the [Gulf Cooperation Council] and nine nations to deal with the security… and the needs of the free world.”

He made a similar argument in a recent Washington Post op-ed ahead of his travels, where he outlined a variety of reasons to visit the kingdom, including regional security, rising gas prices, Russia’s “aggression” in Ukraine and competition with China.

WHO IS BIDEN WORKING FOR? ON ISRAEL VISIT, “ZIONIST” BIDEN WHITEWASHES ISRAEL’S CRIMES

JULY 15TH, 2022

By Miko Peled

Source

Upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, which sits on the lands of the occupied Palestinian city of El-Lyd, President Joe Biden repeated his age-old mantra, “You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist.” Indeed you do not. To be a Zionist, you only need to be a racist, a supporter of the hate-filled, violent, intolerant apartheid regime that has been occupying Palestine since 1948. You need to believe that people who are not Palestinians have a right to Palestine and to its resources. To be a Zionist, you don’t need to be Jewish, you just need to repeat the absurd claim that the Bible gives all Jewish people around the world the right to kill people because they are Palestinians who want to return to their homes and their land.

In a nauseating show of hypocrisy, President Biden, Israeli President Yitzhak Hertzog, and Prime Minister Lapid spoke of peace, justice, and human rights as the shared values of the United States and the State of Israel. This was less than twenty-four hours after John Bolton admitted to orchestrating coup d’états in countries around the world. This is also after Israeli military, and political figures openly talked about assassinating Iranian scientists and officials.

The values shared by Israel and the United States are clearly represented in the fact that President Biden is visiting a country that only recently assassinated the American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh and is keeping silent about it. The president of the United States is in Israel, meeting with heads of the Israeli state, and yet rather than using the full force of his position – which is considerable – to demand accountability, he says and does nothing.

American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The murders of Khashoggi and that of Shireen Abu Akleh are not the only crimes committed by the two regimes for which Biden is showing love, but these two were well publicized and involve U.S. nationals, so one would think he would act or at least speak out.

A BAD DEAL

U.S. support for Israel is a bad deal for the American taxpayers. $3.8 billion dollars of American taxpayers’ money gets sent to Israel at the beginning of each year. And with the exception of the military-industrial complex, Americans get little out of this.

American citizens who wish to travel to Palestine, particularly if they have an Arab name or family there, are subjected to harassment by the Israeli authorities. This harassment takes place at Tel-Aviv airport, where the authorities are notoriously racist, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. The harassment can last for many hours and often results in refusal of entry into the country. U.S. citizens are not protected from the inhumane interrogation process that takes place at the airport on the way in, and they are not protected by their U.S. citizenship when they leave the country.

A U.S. passport does not even protect Americans from being shot and killed by Israeli forces. Rachel Corrie and Shireen Abu-Akleh, both citizens of the United States, were killed in broad daylight. They were wearing safety equipment, they were well identified as non-combatant civilians, and they were both butchered in plain sight. Washington made no effort to bring the criminals to justice.

Joe Biden in Israel

Another U.S. citizen who died at the hand of IDF soldiers is Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad. He died on January 12 after he was arrested by IDF troops. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, the seventy-eight-year-old As’ad “was arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and gagged,” after which the soldiers left. Also, according to the Post report, “the soldiers did not call for medical assistance and left him there believing that he had fallen asleep.” Although several members of congress did issue statements, no real action was taken to hold Israel accountable.

Where was the U.S. government to protect him? Where was the demand to investigate and bring the culprits to justice? and where are the sanctions against the State of Israel, which shows no regard for the lives of Palestinians?

The Israeli human-rights organization B’Tselem commented that: “The army’s announcement regarding the death of Omar Assad is adorned with empty words about ‘moral failure’ – concluding, as expected, with the faintest of rebukes…In fact, the fundamental moral failure is that of Israel’s senior echelons, leading a regime of Jewish supremacy, one in which the human life of Palestinians has no value.”

NO DEMOCRACY, NO STABILITY

Contrary to what is said about Israel, it is neither a democracy nor an island of stability. It has been several years since Israel has been able to function as a state. This is due to the fact that there has not been a government with a stable majority in place. Elections are held over and over again, and even though the results are predictably the same, no stable government is formed. The election results have been consistent, clearly showing what Israeli voters want, namely, they are in favor of a strong, ultra-right-wing government led by racists like Benjamin Netanyahu, who was indicted for corruption, and war criminal generals like Benny Gantz.

Neither the corruption nor the war crimes seem to have any impact on the voters, and these people are elected over and over again. The only thing that changes are the partnerships between the politicians who rarely last very long and the new generals that join the political arena. The one thing that remains constant in Israeli politics is Benjamin Netanyahu. He and his loyal Likud Party followers are the only stable, consistent element in Israeli politics.

WHO IS JOE BIDEN WORKING FOR?

Judging by his performance, Joe Biden is working for AIPAC and not for the American people. He hit every note, shook every hand and repeated his mantras, clearly trying to please his donors back home. According to reports, he even made sure to tell Benjamin Netanyahu that he likes him. His interview on Israeli television included a commitment to keep the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on the list of terrorist organizations and even to attack Iran if that was what it took to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. That is not what his constituents in the U.S. want, but it is what Israel and AIPAC expect of him.

Biden in Jeddah: mending fences, not building bridges

President Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia will likely end in face saving gestures, but no major geopolitical concessions

July 12 2022

Photo Credit: The Cradle

By Kristian Alexander and Giorgio Cafiero

Before 2019, never had a US president referred to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a ‘pariah’ on his campaign trail. Joe Biden’s Saudi-bashing as a presidential candidate, plus a host of other delicate issues, have fueled significant friction between the White House and Riyadh.

Today, relations between the US and Saudi Arabia are probably at their worst since the events of September 11, 2001, stymied by a major trust deficit in the relationship between Biden’s White House and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

By the same token, the Biden administration views Saudi Arabia as a critical partner in the Persian Gulf and continues to sign massive arms deals with the kingdom.

For all the rhetoric on Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose brutal murder MbS is said to have sanctioned, team Biden never imposed state-level sanctions against Saudi Arabia, nor on the crown prince himself.

Meanwhile, the administration praises the role of Riyadh in the Arab world’s trend toward normalization with Israel.

Within this context, Biden’s first presidential trip to West Asia – in which he will go to Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Saudi Arabia this week – will be important to White House efforts to mend fences with Riyadh and salvage this decades-old partnership.

In a US mid-term election year that will likely lead to significant gains for his Republican opposition, Biden seeks to score major foreign policy points in Jeddah that can be used for domestic consumption back in Washington this summer.

Incentivizing Biden to convince the Saudis to increase their oil production are the millions of US motorists struggling with high gas prices and the many average American voters grappling with generational high inflation.

Energy prices are therefore extremely important to Biden’s controversial trip to the kingdom. Yet, this month’s summit in Saudi Arabia is unlikely to give Americans much relief at the gas pump between now and the elections in November.

Shifting the narrative from oil to peace

Determined to ensure that the US public does not tie this tour’s success specifically to a Saudi oil production hike – which could easily result in the Biden administration’s humiliation – the White House message is that this visit to Jeddah largely concerns peace in the region.

As Biden wrote in the Washington Post, avoiding a future in which the region is “coming apart through conflict” is of “paramount importance” to the White House, and he will “pursue diplomacy intensely – including through face-to-face meetings – to achieve our goals.”

According to Biden, if the region comes together through “diplomacy and cooperation” there is a lower chance of “violent extremism” threatening US national security or “new wars that could place new burdens on US military forces and their families.”

This trip comes at a time in which there is a fragile truce in Yemen, where the Saudis and Emiratis have waged a devastating seven-year war. Although the conflict remains unresolved, the drastic reduction in violence and increased humanitarian assistance to the war-torn country have given millions of Yemenis desperately needed relief.

The truce in Yemen has been possible in part because of Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member support, which makes it easier for Biden to justify his visit to Jeddah. After all, it was the Khashoggi affair and the conflict in Yemen that ‘Biden-the-candidate’ cited as reasons for his ‘pariah’ treatment of Riyadh.

Thus, moving toward a settlement to this conflict, in which the last two US presidents were heavily involved in escalating, helps Biden save face as he makes this trip. If the president leaves the kingdom with some guarantees from the Saudis about their commitment to future truce extensions, that could be interpreted as a win for Biden.

“The US administration is beginning to realize that President Biden can’t just ignore Saudi Arabia and that it’s in the best interest of the two countries to start working together, not just to reduce oil prices and pressure on US consumers, but also to further the stability of the Middle East and contain [the Iranian] threat whether in Lebanon or Yemen,” Najah Al-Otaibi, an associate fellow at the Riyadh-based King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, said in an interview with The Cradle.

Expanding on her point, Al-Otaibi said that “Saudi Arabia has recently agreed to extend the United Nations-mediated ceasefire with Yemen, and Prince Mohammed [bin Salman] played a critical role in this move, according to Biden’s officials who thought it is a step forward to solving the conflict.”

Last month, Biden clarified that, for him, bolstering Israel’s security was a major motivation for the trip to Saudi Arabia. Despite some speculation among pundits that Saudi Arabia will soon join the Abraham Accords, this is highly doubtful, especially with King Salman still on the throne. However, with MbS “the reformer” as future king, normalization between “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” and Israel is all the more likely.

Insecurity and an ‘Arab NATO’

Even if Riyadh remains outside the Abraham Accords, there is much that Saudi Arabia can do to make it easier for other Arab-Muslim countries to normalize with Tel Aviv, and for the kingdom’s allies, already signatories to the Abraham Accords, to build on their overt relations with the Israelis.

While in Jeddah, Biden will likely push the Saudis to take some more baby steps toward a de facto normalization with Israel, even if it remains unofficial. One way for the kingdom to do so would be by granting permission for Israeli planes to transit Saudi airspace on their way to the UAE, Bahrain, and other countries.

Other avenues could include bolstering involvement by Israeli technology firms in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Saudi–Israeli military cooperation, and more visits by high-ranking Israeli officials to the kingdom that could build on former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s November 2020 visit to Neom.

Shoring up US–Arab partnerships in preparation for the increasingly likely scenario that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) talks with Iran will collapse in acrimony is a high priority for Biden.

Against the backdrop of Iran’s nuclear advancements as negotiations further stall, Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states attending the GCC+3 summit are preparing for a post-JCPOA future in which friction between the US and Israel, on one side, and the Islamic Republic, on the other, appears set to intensify in the coming weeks and months.

“I think Iran, not oil, is the main issue as Iran moves closer and closer to having all the parts it needs to put together a nuclear bomb,” David Ottaway, a Middle East fellow at the Wilson Center, told The Cradle. “Only a revival of the Iranian nuclear deal can stop that trend, and nobody is optimistic about that happening now.”

Although Riyadh and Tehran have been in direct talks via Baghdad since April 2021, the Saudi leadership wants assurances from team Biden that Washington remains committed to the kingdom’s security regardless of the fate of the 2015 nuclear accord, and that the US will work with its Arab allies to counter Iran in regional hotspots, such as Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Yet, mindful of the little trust Saudi officials have in the Biden administration, it is difficult to imagine the US president gaining enough confidence from Riyadh during this upcoming trip vis-à-vis Iran-related issues. As Ottaway told The Cradle:

“I suspect [Biden] will declare another US commitment to defending the kingdom from its foreign enemies, but after Trump’s failure to take any action after Iranian attacks on Saudi oil facilities in 2019, he needs to say or do something to back up [what are] just words.”

In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about an Arab NATO that includes Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other US-friendly Arab states. Biden will seek to advance this initiative as the west and its allies and partners in West Asia remain worried about Iran’s regional foreign policy agenda.

“[Biden] wishes to reaffirm the historical strength and enduring reciprocity of the alliance, but also to press Riyadh on cooperating more on the energy side – particularly as the US moves as well to create a region-wide defense platform, the so-called Middle East NATO,” Sean Yom, an associate professor at Temple University, pointed out in an interview with The Cradle.

“There is, however, one sticking point that will probably cause a difference: the Saudis continue to desire a strong US presence in the Gulf, one that can police Iran and intervene in a potential militarized conflict, whereas Biden clearly is continuing his predecessors’ anti-interventionist stance,” added Yom.

Nonetheless, many experts have doubts about an Arab NATO ever manifesting into a real alliance, and expect the initiative to remain merely conceptual. This assessment accounts for the opposition of some Arab states to an open military coordination with Israel, as some GCC states, like the Sultanate of Oman, do not want to join an alliance aimed at weakening or intimidating Tehran.

There are also logistical hurdles which would make it difficult for these state militaries to integrate in a NATO-like manner.

“Biden’s plan for a US-backed ‘Arab NATO’ of GCC states plus Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan seems as unlikely to succeed as Trump’s Middle East Strategic Alliance, which never got off the ground,” Ottaway says.

Virtue-signalling human rights

Although Biden’s administration has determined that the moral costs of this presidential trip do not outweigh the perceived benefits, the Khashoggi affair remains a delicate issue – though significantly less so now than in the immediate aftermath of the grisly murder in October 2018.

MbS wants the US government to drop the Khashoggi issue, but elements within Biden’s party maintain that any interaction between him and the crown prince would be “profoundly disturbing.” To placate more progressive politicians, high-profile media pundits, and human rights activists who criticize Biden for “legitimizing” MbS on this trip, the president will seek some human rights concessions, like those which his administration secured at the start of his presidency.

If Biden is successful on this front, he could return to the US claiming that his visit to the kingdom helped advance, rather than hinder, the cause of human rights. Such an achievement would help Biden save face and tell his base that he did not abandon certain principles or so-called ‘American values’ by meeting MbS in the Saudi kingdom.

“His campaign trail rhetoric, like all political campaign rhetoric, was never going to bear much resemblance to executive policy and official diplomacy,” cautioned Yom. “But I do think Biden will exit the meetings by claiming that he squarely put human rights concerns, and potentially even democratic awareness, onto the agenda for Riyadh.”

Yet, whether the Saudi leadership feels it is under sufficient pressure to release any political prisoners, or provide liberties to some recently released Saudis who are banned from traveling, remains to be seen.

From the perspective of the Saudi government, the US and other western governments are inappropriately virtue signaling when raising human rights concerns in the kingdom. The view from Riyadh is that these issues are internal issues that do not concern Washington or European capitals.

Saudi and other Arab officials will often point to US sins in Iraq or police brutality against African-Americans to highlight elements of hypocrisy on the part of US politicians lecturing the Saudi government on the human rights front.

MbS reportedly “shouting” at US national security adviser Jake Sullivan after the high-ranking official brought up the Khashoggi case underscores the effect of these discussions on the leaders of Saudi Arabia.

The grander geopolitical picture 

Biden will visit Saudi Arabia amid a period of increasing east–west bifurcation and intensifying great power competition. Although neither China nor Russia is on the verge of replacing the US as security guarantor of Saudi Arabia or any GCC states, US influence in the Gulf has declined with Beijing and Moscow gaining greater clout at Washington’s expense.

Biden’s trip to Jeddah aims to reassert US influence in the Persian Gulf and attempt to prevent Riyadh and other Arab capitals from moving closer to the Chinese and Russians. An objective of Biden’s is to bring GCC states back into the geopolitical orbit of the west, while slowing down the growth of their partnerships with Beijing and Moscow.

“There were undeniable hiccups in the relationship last year, relating to halting support to the Yemen war, aggressive rhetoric against MbS, and more scrutiny on arms sales,” Yom explained.

“Fundamentally, none of these factors perturbed the great structural core of the US–Saudi alliance, built upon mutual perceptions of energy security, sovereign protections, and regional hegemony. But those hiccups were enough to make the decision-making circles in Riyadh a bit uncomfortable, enough at least to entertain Russian and Chinese overtures for military and energy cooperation.”

The White House and the entire US foreign policy establishment have grave concerns about Sino–Saudi ballistic missile cooperation and the extent to which the Chinese and Emiratis are making their defense and security relations more robust.

It is safe to say that while in Jeddah, team Biden will make it clear that the US will withhold future military assistance if GCC states move militarily closer to China. The extent to which such pressure has any impact on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s relationships with Beijing remains an open question.

Nonetheless, team Biden must understand that this visit will occur against the backdrop of serious tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has grown frustrated with many aspects of Washington’s agenda in the Biden era.

The Saudi government’s view is that Biden is an ’Obama 2.0’ – a perspective that is not unreasonable when mindful of how many Obama administration veterans, including Biden himself, are serving in the White House.

By moving closer to China and Russia, the Saudis are sending a message, loud and clear, to Washington that Riyadh has other options on the international stage as the world moves towards multipolarity with more Arab statesmen perceiving the US as a power that is withdrawing from West Asia.

Riyadh can exaggerate the extent to which the kingdom has grown closer to Beijing and Moscow to gain leverage over the US and secure more concessions from Washington. That is likely to continue, and Biden would be making a mistake in placating the Saudis in every instance to merely try to stop Riyadh from tilting closer to China and Russia.

Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia is showing itself to be increasingly confident and Biden’s visit to the kingdom will add to Riyadh’s sense of being emboldened, giving the Saudi leadership more reason to pursue its own interests in ways that sometimes align more closely with Beijing and Moscow’s foreign policy objectives than those of western powers.

Despite these geopolitical tensions, the Biden administration and Al-Saud rulers both value Washington and Riyadh’s decades-old partnership, and neither side wants to abandon it. Much anger and a significant trust deficit, however, have built up between these two countries.

Biden will not be leaving Saudi Arabia later this month with all these issues resolved. But the dialogue in Jeddah has the potential to begin a process of mending fences.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Biden Says His Visit Is Meant to Integrate The ‘Israeli’ Entity In the Region

July 1 2022

By Staff, Agencies

The goal behind US President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to the Middle East is to further integrate the Zionist occupation regime into the region.

“I am, as I said, going to ‘Israel’ to meet with ‘Israeli’ leaders to affirm the unbreakable bond ‘Israel’ and the United States have,” Biden said when asked about the trip during a news conference in Madrid.

“And part of the purpose is — the trip to the Middle East — is to deepen ‘Israel’s’ integration in the region, which I think we’re going to be able to do and which is good — good for ‘Israeli’ security,” he added.

That goal of integration is “why ‘Israel’ leaders have come out so strongly for my going to Saudi,” Biden stated.

The Zionist occupation leaders encouraged Biden to visit Saudi Arabia, despite the president’s past call for it to be a “pariah” because of the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Biden is set to visit the ‘Israeli’-occupied Palestinian territories on July 13-14, and continue from there to Jeddah for a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council the following day.

‘Israel’ and the Gulf States “have real concerns about what’s going on in Iran and other places in terms of their security,” he went on to claim.

Biden pushed back against an assertion that the trip was about asking Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, in light of the rising price of gas in the US.

He said that he does not have a planned meeting specifically with the Saudi king or crown prince, but that they will be part of the larger GCC meeting. Biden said he plans to ask all Gulf States to increase oil production, not just the Saudis.

The Little Prince and the Saudi Blower

If the media can probe Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, why not the murder of other Palestinians?

23 June 2022

Jonathan Cook is an award-winning independent journalist and author [ MORE ]

An Israeli sniper shot the Al-Jazeera journalist, according to four US news organisations. But the only investigation the Biden administration will heed is an Israeli one

Middle East Eye – 22 Jun 2022

The New York Times published this week the conclusion of its investigation into the killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

It was the fourth major US news organisation to look in detail at what happened to Abu Akleh during an Israeli army raid into the Palestinian city of Jenin last month. 

The New York Times found a high probability she had been killed by an Israeli sniper, confirming the findings of earlier investigations by the Associated Press, CNN and the Washington Post. Like the other publications, the Times based its findings on video footage, witness testimonies and acoustic analysis. 

“The bullet that killed Ms Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy [in Jenin], most likely by a soldier from an elite unit,” the Times concluded. A total of 16 shots were fired at the group of journalists that included Abu Akleh.

Last month, CNN said the evidence it unearthed suggested the veteran Al Jazeera journalist had been killed in a “targeted attack by Israeli forces”. Similar conclusions have been reached by human rights groups that have studied the evidence, including Israel’s respected occupation watchdog, B’Tselem. 

A major blow

These probes are a major blow to Israel, coming from reputed media organisations that are usually seen as highly sympathetic to Israel rather than the Palestinians. 

They have kept the killing of the journalist in the headlines when Israel had hoped interest would quickly wane – as is the case with the overwhelming majority of Palestinian deaths.

The investigations have made it much harder for Israel to obscure both its responsibility for Abu Akleh’s killing and the intention behind it. The bullet that killed her was fired with the apparent goal of executing her, hitting a narrow, exposed area of flesh between her helmet and a flak jacket marked “Press”. 

And the various probes have highlighted once again how unwilling Israel is to hold its soldiers to account for committing crimes if the victim is Palestinian. 

Instead, Israel has had to twist and turn in defending its failure to identify the culprit. It initially refused to investigate, claiming a Palestinian gunman, not one of its soldiers, shot Abu Akleh during the military raid.  

All the media investigations show that to be untrue. 

Then Israel suggested that she might have been hit by the crossfire from an Israeli soldier being fired on by Palestinian gunmen. But all the investigations have shown that Palestinian fighters were nowhere near Abu Akleh when she was shot. She was, however, clearly visible to a unit of Israeli soldiers. 

More recently, Israel has tried to shift the blame onto the Palestinian Authority, saying it has not cooperated by handing over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh or by agreeing to hold a joint investigation. As ever, Israel behaves as if the party accused of the crime should be the one to oversee the investigation.

The Palestinian Authority rightly refuses requests for cooperation, arguing that they are being made in bad faith. Israel would exploit any joint investigation to concoct “a new lie, a new narrative”, the PA observes. 

A meaningful question

In reality, Israel already knows exactly which of its snipers pulled the trigger. The only meaningful question at this stage is, why? Was the shooting committed by a hot-headed soldier, or was it an execution carried out on orders from above? Was the intention to target Abu Akleh specifically, or did it not matter which of the group of journalists she was among was hit? 

Israel, however, isn’t the only party discomfited by the media’s repeated investigations.

They have also served to embarrass Joe Biden’s administration. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has called for an “independent, credible investigation”, while his department has underscored the need for a “thorough and independent investigation”. 

The New York Times and the other major media outlets have all proved that just such an investigation can be carried out. And yet the silence from the US administration at their shared findings is deafening. 

There are two further, possibly less obvious conclusions the rest of us should draw from these efforts to identify who was responsible for killing Abu Akleh. 

The first relates to the exceptional nature of the investigations conducted by the US media. Concern at the killing of a Palestinian is far from the norm. In this case, it appears to have been prompted by an unusual coincidence of facts: that Abu Akleh was a high-profile, internationally respected journalist and that she had US citizenship. 

In other words, she was seen not just as any ordinary Palestinian, or even as a Palestinian journalist, but as one of the western media’s own. 

Total impunity

In murdering Abu Akleh, Israel reminded journalists at the New York Times, AP, CNN and the Washington Post that the lives of their correspondents covering Israel and Palestine are in more danger than they possibly appreciate. In killing her, Israel crossed a red line for the western media – one premised on self-interest and self-preservation. 

There are parallels with the media’s special treatment of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – and for similar reasons. Khashoggi, who was working for the Washington Post, was murdered and his body dismembered during a visit to the Saudi embassy in Turkey

As with Israel, Saudi Arabia‘s leadership has an appalling human rights record and is not hesitant to jail and kill its opponents. But Khashoggi’s murder provoked unprecedented outrage from the media – outrage that Saudi Arabia’s many other victims have never warranted.

The fact is the US media could have conducted similar investigations into any number of Palestinian deaths at the hands of the Israeli security services, not just Abu Akleh’s, and they would have reached similar conclusions. But they have consistently avoided doing so.

There is a danger inherent in focusing exclusively on Abu Akleh’s killing, just as there was with focusing exclusively on Khashoggi’s. Each has the effect of making it look as though their deaths are exceptional events requiring exceptional investigation – when they are each an example of a longstanding pattern of regime lawlessness and human rights abuses.

The special focus subtly reinforces too the impression that Palestinian accounts of Israeli abuses, even when the supporting evidence is overwhelming, cannot be trusted. 

The veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has run a weekly column, the Twilight Zone, in the Haaretz newspaper for years in which he investigates the killing or serious wounding of Palestinians – often people whose names have never appeared in the western media. 

Invariably he finds that Israel’s military lies – sometimes flagrantly – about the circumstances in which Palestinians have been killed, or it initiates an inconclusive, stone-walling investigation. 

The lies are needed because the truth would show something consistently ugly about Israel’s decades of military occupation: that Israeli soldiers often kill unarmed Palestinians in cold blood; or that they recklessly shoot Palestinian bystanders; or that they execute armed Palestinian fighters when no one’s life is in danger.

The common thread in Levy’s reports is the complete impunity of Israeli soldiers, whatever their actions.

Pilloried in public

But there is a further conclusion to be drawn. Blinken and the Biden administration keep insisting on a thorough, independent, credible and transparent investigation, and say it is important to “follow the facts, wherever they lead”.

But who do they expect to carry out such an investigation? 

The White House, of course, reflexively discounts the findings of the Palestinian Authority’s investigation that Abu Akleh was deliberately shot by Israeli soldiers. It acts as if the investigations conducted by these four large media organisations do not qualify. Meanwhile, the administration itself shows precisely zero interest in conducting an investigation, despite pressure from Congress to involve the FBI. 

Would Blinken prefer that the United Nations take on the task? Presumably not, given how the US and Israel responded to the last major independent investigation by the UN, one into Israel’s month-long attack on Gaza at the end of 2008. Israel refused to cooperate. 

Richard Goldstone, a distinguished South African jurist, led a panel of experts who concluded that Israel had committed a series of war crimes during its attack, known as Cast Lead, as had Palestinian militias. 

The UN panel’s report found that Israel had adopted a policy that intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians, the vast majority of the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Cast Lead. 

Both the US and Israel worked strenuously to bury the report. Goldstone, who is Jewish, found himself publicly shamed and isolated by Jewish communities in the US and South Africa. He was even barred from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Eventually, he appeared to succumb to the pressure campaign, expressing regret over the report. 

No one in Washington came to Goldstone’s defence over the UN’s thorough, independent, credible and transparent investigation. Quite the reverse: he was publicly pilloried. The US administration thereby sent a message to other experts that investigating “independently” and “credibly” is certain only to bring ignominy on their heads if it exposes Israel’s war crimes. 

Israel’s hands ‘tied’

Or maybe Blinken would prefer that the International Criminal Court at the Hague investigate. 

And yet the US demonstrated the degree to which it appreciates full, independent, credible and transparent investigations by that body two years ago, when the ICC tried to turn the spotlight on to US war crimes in Afghanistan and Israel’s in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

In response, Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, imposed sanctions on the court, denying staff entry to the US and threatening to seize its assets. The threat extended to anyone offering “material support” to the court – language more normally used in the context of terrorism.  

The reality, as all parties understand, is that only an investigation overseen by Israel could ever count as “thorough, independent, credible and transparent” to the US. 

The subtext is that an investigation cannot hope to reach the bar of “credible, independent and transparent”, as far as Washington is concerned, until the Palestinian Authority agrees to hold a joint inquiry with Israel.

But both Israel and the US know full well that the Palestinian leadership will never agree to such “cooperation” – because Israel’s role would not be to arrive at the truth but to engineer a cover-up. 

The demand for a “credible, independent and transparent” investigation is the US administration’s code for an investigation that will never take place. It is the diplomatic equivalent of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But more importantly, it is the kind of impossible investigation that, conveniently for the US and Israel, they can blame the PA for obstructing. As long as the Palestinians refuse to “cooperate”, Israel’s hands are supposedly tied. 

Abu Akleh’s murder has not just revealed the fact that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians, any Palestinian, with impunity. 

It has revealed too that the Biden administration is not troubled by the killing, or by the impunity of the soldier who executed her. All that bothers the White House is the irritant of having to create the impression it cares about the truth and the impression that Israel is doing its best to investigate. 

Until the matter can be swept aside, it will be a little harder for each to get on with business as usual: for the US to give Israel full-throated financial, diplomatic and military support; and for Israel to continue its incremental, decades-long work of seizing control of the Palestinians’ entire, historic homeland.

But at least for each of them, with Abu Akleh gone, there is one less fearless witness to expose quite how hollow their moral posturing is.

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