Britain’s Sky News is reporting that the remains of journalist Jamal Khashoggi have been found in the garden of the Saudi Arabian consul general in Istanbul.
Turkish authorities are denying the report, but multiple sources suggested Khashoggi had been cut up and his face “disfigured,” Sky News reported.
Regardless of whether the body has been found, Turkish authorities say they have recovered two suitcases that contained Khashoggi’s personal belongings during a search of a Saudi consulate vehicle in Istanbul, according to CNN.
Implicating the Saudi consul general in at least the coverup of the murder brings the crime one step closer to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Intelligence sources told Reuters that Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to MBS, directed the murder of Khashoggi over Skype.
According to one high-ranking Arab source with access to intelligence and links to members of Saudi Arabia’s royal court, Qahtani was beamed into a room of the Saudi consulate via Skype.
He began to hurl insults at Khashoggi over the phone. According to the Arab and Turkish sources, Khashoggi answered Qahtani’s insults with his own. But he was no match for the squad, which included top security and intelligence operatives, some with direct links to the royal court.
A Turkish intelligence source relayed that at one point Qahtani told his men to dispose of Khashoggi. “Bring me the head of the dog,” the Turkish intelligence source says Qahtani instructed.
Saudi King Salman received Khashoggi’s family members on Tuesday, with the crown prince in attendance, according to Saudi state media.
Erdogan also spoke with Khaashoggi’s family on the phone, sending his condolences.
A rogue operation by Saudi intelligence? Or a murder carried out with the approval of the crown prince? Loathe as I am to accept the word of anonymous intelligence sources in Turkey, not to mention Erdogan’s posturing, it appears very likely that the Saudi government is guilty of killing Khashoggi.
So what’s to be done? Clearly, we can’t continue with business as usual with the Saudis. But those who are breathing fire and demanding we cancel a $100 billion arms deal or break off relations with the Saudis over this murder are being incredibly short sighted.
Why should we damage our own interests in order to punish an ally? The Saudis are on the front line against Iranian designs in the region, fighting a war against Iranian proxies in Yemen. They have been developing a cautious, cooperative military relationship with the state of Israel — an enormously important development for peace and security in the region.
The massive arms sale to the Saudis would improve their military capabilities substantially. That the sale also means tens of thousands of American jobs must also be a consideration.
There has to be something we can do to show our displeasure at Saudi actions short of blowing up our relationship with them. Requesting that King Salman force MBS to step down is one option, but such a step involves a whole series of chess moves by the king who approved the rise of MBS to be next in line to the throne, partly by threatening Mohammed bin Nayef, an important prince and formerly first in line to succeed the king. The Byzantine world of the Saudi royal family would be destabilized if MBS were forced out as factions all jostled for power.
There are other economic sanctions the U.S. could impose short of blocking the arms sale. But none of those would bite very hard. We import less than 10% of our oil from the kingdom, an amount that could easily be covered by slowing U.S. exports of petroleum. But the world oil market is fairly tight right now and the Saudis would have little trouble finding other customers.
There are complaints that the president is “too close” to the Saudis, with partisans claiming he is going easy on them because of his and his son-in-law’s personal investments in the kingdom. It’s idiotic, of course, but the press never tires of smearing Trump or his family.
Trump is said to feel “betrayed” by the Saudis, but short of criticizing them, there isn’t much more he can realistically do. This won’t satisfy the baying wolves who see a political opening in Trump’s measured response to the crisis.
What else can you expect with the election two weeks away?