Skip to content

Jamal Khashoggi

October 10, 2018

Since the story broke of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, I have been reluctant to comment up to now, not because of a lack of concern for his fate but because I’m so far away from potential sources that I would only add from a position of ignorance to the speculation over what, if anything, has happened to him.

But I have to say this. Jamal Khashoggi is a person whose writing I’ve followed for many years. I respect his views and I admire his integrity. And I can’t get out of my mind the thought of a gang of fifteen people arresting him, killing him, dismembering him and bringing his body back to Saudi Arabia.

At some stage one would hope that something resembling the truth will emerge. But until then, as a person observing from afar it strikes me that the dominant account of his death doesn’t make sense. If the Saudi regime wanted Jamal dead, why would they not simply send a hit squad to follow him out of the Saudi consulate and murder him on the street or in his house in the city?

They could also hit him at any time during his stay in Istanbul, not immediately after his visit to the consulate. And they could also have contracted out the hit. There must be a few professional killers for hire in Istanbul.

If, on the other hand, they wanted to silence him rather than kill him, they could have put pressure on his family that might have persuaded him to leave Istanbul and return to Saudi Arabia “voluntarily”. Once there, he could have been arrested and jailed alongside all the others perceived as dissidents who are currently incarcerated in the Kingdom.

If the dismemberment story turns out to be true, it will of course strike fear into Saudi exiles around the world. But on the flip side it would horrify Saudi Arabia’s allies in a way that the grisly deaths of thousands of Yemenis had failed to do. It would destroy Mohammed bin Salman’s reputation as a reformer and place him on an international villain’s list that in the past has included Saddam Hussain and Muammar Gaddafi, and currently includes Vladimir Putin, the Iranian leadership and Kim Jong Un. Not to mention ISIS, world leaders in imaginative ways of killing. Hardly a good list of people to be on if you are looking for investment in your country.

There’s been a counter-narrative flying around that has gained some currency within Saudi Arabia, which is that Jamal’s death was organised by Qatar, which wants to discredit its rival in the current dispute. If that were the case, then surely again such an outcome could be achieved by a more conventional assassination.

There are so many questions around Jamal’s disappearance that plausible deniability no longer seems to be a concern – or at least not a priority, just as it wasn’t when Putin’s two GRU operatives went after Skripal. Plausible doubt seems to be the order of the day.

If it turns out that Saudi Arabia is responsible for Jamal’s disappearance, what would be the international diplomatic outcome? Would the United States and the EU impose sanctions? Possibly, but any that involve restrictions in the supply of armaments or the cancellation of security cooperation would be an opportunity for Russia and China, two countries less squeamish about the rights of their citizens, to step into the breach. So my guess would be that there would be plenty of noise but minimal impact.

The whole affair is fast degenerating into a political football. Those who hate the Saudi regime are piling in from all directions. Those who condemn America and all its works will likewise be excoriating the Trump administration for its support of the regime.

I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere on the internet there are whataboutists who would compare the alleged violation of Turkey’s sovereignty with the United States snatching Osama bin Laden from Pakistan.

With all the sound and fury that has erupted, it’s easy to forget that a decent man has disappeared, much to the consternation of his friends and colleagues. And that a family back in Saudi Arabia is living in fear for their future and the fate of their loved one.

We should spare a thought for them.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: