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Saudi crown prince approved murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi: U.S. intel report

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 operation to “capture or kill” Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a declassified U.S. intelligence report published Friday. In October 2018, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey, sparking international outrage against Saudi Arabia.

In the report, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) cited bin Salman’s control of decision-making in Saudi Arabia, plus the direct involvement of a key advisor and members of the 35-year-old crown prince’s protective detail, in the operation that killed Khashoggi.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the four-page summary of the intelligence community’s findings reads.

“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision-making in the Kingdom since 2017, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report continues.

“Since 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization,” the report also said.

The U.S.-based Washington Post contributor Khashoggi, who had criticized the Saudi royal family, entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2, 2018 and never left. He was murdered by a group of assassins, who subsequently dismembered his body. His remains were never found.

According to the ODNI report, around the time of Khashoggi’s murder, “the Crown Prince probably fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them. This suggests that the aides were unlikely to question Muhammad bin Salman’s orders or undertake sensitive actions without his consent.”

Furthermore, the document concludes that the “Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary to silence him.”

“Although Saudi officials had pre-planned an unspecified operation against Khashoggi,” the document added, “we do not know how far in advance Saudi officials decided to harm him.”

On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions on 76 Saudi officials involved in Khashoggi’s death and the harassment of other journalists and political dissidents abroad.

“The murder of journalist and U.S. lawful permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi shocked the world. Starting today, we will have a new global policy bearing his name to impose visa restrictions on those who engage in extraterritorial attacks on journalists or activists,” Blinken said in a statement.

The visa restrictions affect 76 Saudi officials “believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing” and at the direction of the Saudi government, the statement added.

Notably, President Joe Biden in his first call with Saudi Arabia’s 85-year-old King Salman on Thursday “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” according to a readout from the White House. Though, Khashoggi’s name does not pop up in the readout.

Biden’s phone call followed White House press secretary on Tuesday saying: “On Saudi Arabia, I would say we’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”

After previously denying knowledge of Khashoggi’s death, Saudi authorities at the time claimed that he got into a fight inside the consulate and died in the clash, with the crown prince telling Bloomberg that the journalist had left the consulate shortly after arriving in stark contradiction to reports. Eventually, authorities said the journalist was killed in a “rogue operation,” though they denied that bin Salman was involved.

In a June 2019 report, a United Nations investigator concluded that Khashoggi was “the victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.”

Less than two month’s after Khashoggi’s death, then-President Donald Trump doubted bin Salman’s involvement in the journalist’s death at the time, saying, “we may never know all of the facts surrounding” Khashoggi’s death, but “our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

“It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” he also said.

Trump was widely criticized at the time for his seemingly conciliatory stance.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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EXCLUSIVE: Former Trump appointee explains an ‘America First Strategy’ in the ME

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Screen Shot 2024 03 13 at 9.50.09 AM
Photo: Israeli Government

The author interviewed Ellie Cohanim, one of the authors of the new book: “An America First Approach to US National Security.” Ellie is the former U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism under the Trump administration. She is currently a Senior Fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum focusing on Iran, Israel, and global antisemitism, and is a national security contributor for the Christian Broadcasting Network. In 2021, Ellie launched and hosted for Jewish News Syndicate 30 plus episodes of the show “Global Perspectives with Ellie Cohanim.” Ellie spent 15 years in media and NGO management before serving in the public sector. How would you define an “America First” strategy in the Middle East?

Cohanim: An America First strategy in the Middle East would seek to advance American national security interests in that region, while maintaining our status as THE global superpower. To do that, the US would ensure that our principal allies in the region, countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, are economically and militarily strong, and that our adversaries in the region are deterred.

Postal: How has the United States’ standing in the Middle East differed between the Trump and Biden administrations?

Cohanim: Under President Trump, for four years we had peace, stability and prosperity in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region. Under President Biden, in just three tumultuous years there has been war in the region, which holds the potential for becoming a regional conflict and even a nuclear confrontation. Meanwhile, the US’ status in the region and the world has diminished due to Biden’s disastrous mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, his emboldening of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and his weak response to Iranian attacks on our personnel and assets in the region. 

 

Postal: Do you think the United States and Israel are/were in a stronger position to deter Iran’s nuclear and territorial ambitions in Biden or Trump’s administration?

Cohanim: America’s position of strength has not changed under either administration vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran. What has changed is our Iran policy. Under President Trump’s administration, the US contained and constrained Tehran. Trump applied a “Maximum Pressure” sanctions campaign which left the Iranian Regime with only $4 billion in accessible foreign currency reserves by the end of his term, giving the Iranians less cash and less ability to fund their terror proxies and their nuclear program, and Trump eliminated Qassem Soleimani. While all President Biden needed to do was to continue implementing such successful policies, his administration instead did the exact opposite.  Under the Biden administration, Israel, our leading ally in the region, was attacked for the first time directly from Iranian soil. This was an unprecedented escalatory attack by the Iranian regime, and could only happen under the Biden administration.

Postal: In your chapter of the book, you discuss the weakening of US relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia under the Biden administration. How has the Biden administration affected the likelihood of future normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and deals between Israel and other Muslim countries (i.e., new Abraham Accords)?

Cohanim: The good news is that the Abraham Accords have withstood the test of multiple Hamas provocations against Israel, and now the current war. Despite numerous claims from the Biden administration regarding “successful” efforts to normalize ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, I do not think that the Biden administration will be able to clinch such a deal. In the Middle East, people have a long memory. Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has not forgotten President Biden’s snub when he first came into office, and Biden’s incredibly poorly advised behavior towards the Crown Prince when he made his first visit to the Kingdom as president. The last thing the Crown Prince wants is to hand Biden his first foreign policy success with a Rose Garden peace deal ceremony. So, I do not believe President Biden can broker Saudi/Israeli normalization.

However, I am also convinced that it is a matter of “when” and not “if” such a peace deal will happen between those two countries, as it serves both of their interests to make such a deal. The Saudis understand better than anyone that it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that threatens the Kingdom’s security and stability, not Israel.

Postal: What do you think of the Biden administration’s latest statements withholding arms to Israel?

Cohanim: President Biden will go down in history for his abject moral failure in not standing by Israel while she fights a five-front war. Biden has shown his despicable personality for trying to keep his anti-Israel arms embargo concealed until he could first deliver a speech on the Holocaust. Biden’s behavior is despicable on so many levels.

Ultimately, Biden is betraying the American people. He came into office presenting himself as a “centrist Democrat,” but has proven repeatedly to be beholden to the radical, extremist, pro-Hamas wing of his party.

Postal: How does the Biden administration’s support of a Palestinian state differ from the Trump administration’s support of a Palestinian state under its Peace to Prosperity framework?

Cohanim: The Biden administration stated that they will “unilaterally recognize” a Palestinian state. What the borders of that state are and who would lead it, nobody knows. 

The Trump administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” was a detailed plan that was premised on the realities on the ground in Israel. The plan required that the Palestinians reach benchmarks proving a real desire to live in peace with their Israeli neighbors. It included over $50 billion in investment in the region, which would have been a road to prosperity for all. Perhaps most significantly, the Palestinian state envisioned under the Trump plan would have been demilitarized, the wisdom of which could not be more clear following the October 7 massacre and attack.

The author would like to thank Ellie Cohanim for participating in this interview.

 

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