After a short lull, a third wave of derogatory reports in the US, Turkey, and West Europe again put the Saudi crown prince on the hot plate for the Jamal Khashoggi murder on Oct. 2 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. What has catapulted this story back onto front pages after weeks of quiet? DEBKAfile’s sources offer some background:
- President Donald Trump said on Sunday, Nov. 11, that he had been briefed on the tape on which Turkey claims to have recorded the murder, but he refused to watch it: “It’s a suffering tape, It’s a terrible tape,” he said.
- Several US media subsequently reported that the CIA, after being charged by the president with investigating the crime, had concluded that it had been planned and ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman MbS). The CIA itself said nothing to confirm this claim.
- Trump responded to the allegation by saying that he can’t determine from the facts put before him the degree of the crown prince’s responsibly for the murder. “But at the same time,” he added. “We do have an ally and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”
- On Monday, Nov. 19, a well-known Turkish columnist alleged that the quarrel between Khashoggi and the Saudi security officers holding him at the consulate, was triggered by their demand that he send a cable to his son in Saudi Arabia and he refused. He was then put to death. The columnist had no knowledge of what the alleged cable was to have said.
- On Tuesday, Nov. 20, another Turkish publication ran what it claimed were words heard on the tape in the seconds of the murder. “Release my arm! What do you think you’re doing?” Khashoggi is quoted as shouting. This was followed by the sounds of blows and torture. The next words came from a man, identified as a squad member, who said: “It feels spooky to put on the clothes of a man we killed 20 minutes ago.” He is then heard to complain that Khashoggi’s shoes were too small and is told to wear his own trainers. According to these Turkish sources, this discrepancy showed up when the dead journalist’s double was filmed on an Istanbul street after the murder.
- The “double” was named by Turkish media as Mustafa al-Madani whom they claim is close to the crown prince. All these new quotes in the Turkish media from a tape in the possession of the Turkish authorities, appeared as the backdrop for a conversation taking place then in New York in which Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu demanded that UN Secretary Antonio Guterres set up an international tribunal to probe the Saudi journalist’s murder.
- Saudi Arabia strenuously denies all the Turkish allegations and claims that a team sent to Istanbul to extract Khashoggi, went rogue and killed him. There have been 21 Saudi arrests in connection with the crime, of whom 5 were sentenced to death and 11 given prison sentences. The entire team acted on their own initiative, says Riyadh, while Prince Mohammed was not involved and was in total ignorance of what was happening at the Istanbul consulate.
The new rash of publications on the Khashoggi affair reflects a fresh, coordinated effort to unseat the crown prince, say DEBKAfile’s sources who point at four motives:
- Certain Washington circles are determined to impair the strong relationship prevailing between the Trump administration and Saudi King Salman and his son. Those circles have long sought to weaken the king, but since Donald Trump entered the White House, they view MbS’s ouster that much more desirable for the collateral gain of getting at the president and his family through that relationship. The crown prince’s eclipse would gain two further advantages in the eyes of those circles: It would seriously jeopardize Trump’s anti-Iran campaign and also his projected Israeli-Palestinian peace plan which is contingent on the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Israel.
- A number of interested parties, political, financial and members of the world oil community, look with extreme disfavor on the two crown princes, MbS and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Ziyad (MbZ) of the United Arab Emirates, running the show in the Gulf as a joint powerhouse. Knocking not just one of the princes off this high perch – but both – is their goal. Turkey therefore planted a second tale in its tame media, which sought to blacken MbZ as MbS’ accomplice in the Khashoggi crime’s cover-up. This story alleged that the Emirates assigned this task to a team of four. One was named by the Turkish media as the exiled Palestinian Muhammed Dahlan, who is reputedly a close friend of MbZ. The Emirates foreign minister categorically denied his tale.
- Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan can’t let go of his burning desire to thrust the two crown princes aside and out of his way to the leadership of the Sunni Muslim world.
- The Saudi crown prince has announced he will attend the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on 26-30 November. He hopes that the sight of him hobnobbing with world leaders as their equal (including Erdogan), and shaking their hands in front of flashing cameras will repair the damage to his reputation cast by aspersions over the Khashoggi affair and give him a solid footing on the world stage. The new flood of pejorative reports hitting the media in the last few days aims at snatching this opportunity out of his hands by making him an international persona non grata.