It was only a matter of time before someone tied the Khashoggi murder affair to Israel. And so, on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at moments of weakness for President Donald Trump, Saudi Crown Prince MbS and PM Binyamin Netanyahu, The Wall Street Journal brought Saudi ties with Israeli intelligence and tech systems firms into play.
The WSJ first noted that Saudi Dep. Intelligence chief Gen. Ahmadal-Assiri and court adviser Saud al-Qahtani, – both close advisers to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, (MbS) – who played key roles in the covert ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, were sacked over their suspected involvement in the journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death at the Istanbul consulate on October 2.
The paper notes suggestively that Qahtani, as media adviser, directed the Saudi press to soften Israel’s image compared with its long portrayal as the Zionist enemy, and managed the purchase of “advanced surveillance technology from Israeli firms,” to serve his second role in “monitoring critics and stifling dissent in Saudi Arabia, which included the hacking of electronic communications.”
Saudi officials told the paper that Qahtani had “sought out software made by Israeli spyware maker NSO Group and its affiliate, Q CyberTechnology, which began providing the kingdom cyber surveillance tools last year in a $55 million deal.” One official is quoted as saying, “Qahtani was the key player in all of this… He wanted the best and he knew that Israeli firms offered the best.”
Although no facts are presented as evidence that the two senior Saudi officials used Israeli technology to track Khashoggi, or that any Israeli was implicated even indirectly in the affair, the WSJ writes suggestively that the sidelining of the two officials suspected in the Khashoggi murder has had a negative impact on Saudi-Israeli ties. Another casualty has been the Trump Mid East peace plan, which hinged on the crown prince’s growing affinity with Israel.
Although the crown prince is confirmed by various sources to be safe in the saddle after the Khashoggi affair (including The New York Times on Monday), the WSJ speaks of his “diminished role” in the wake of the murder, and reports that King Salman, who has taken “a more active role in government” in its aftermath “has been more adverse to warmer ties with Israel than his 33-year old son, recently describing resolving the Palestinian plight with Israel as the kingdom’s foremost priority in the region.”
This report appeared shortly after the US Treasury imposed sanctions for the first time on a senior IDF general. Maj. Gen. (res.) Israel Ziv was accused of serious charges, which he has flatly denied, of selling weapons both to the South Sudanese government and its opposition, thereby stirring up the conflict to boost his sales of arms.
In one week, therefore, a senior Israeli army officer, intelligence officials and technology companies find they are under attack for their ties with Saudi Arabia and in one case, Africa.
This assault comes at a time that President Donald Trump, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, each for different reasons, are undergoing debilitating political and personal crises, and, moreover, shortly before the Democrats take over a majority of the US House of Representatives next month.