America’s four-year honeymoon with Saudi Arabia under Donald Trump’s presidency is over. The Government of Joe Biden had planned to publish yesterday an intelligence services report on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post’, at the Saudi Arabian consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul, which, according to the US press, directly incriminates the heir to the Saudi throne and the ‘de facto’ king of that country, Mohamed bin Salma, or, as he is colloquially known by his initials, MBS. The sign of distancing is not the report. It is its publication. The document was delivered to Congress, but in a restricted way, more than two years ago. The fact that it is now made available to the public seems to indicate that Biden has no interest in MBS continuing to evade political responsibility for the murder of Khashoggi, who, according to the Turkish and Qatari secret services, was dismembered alive at the consulate.
Saudi Arabia gave multiple versions of Khashoggi’s disappearance, including that he did not die in the consulate, before finally getting an official position, according to which the journalist was killed by elements outside the control of the Saudi secret services. In 2019, the Saudi Justice sentenced five officials to death for the murder of Khashoggi, although the following year their sentences were commuted to 20 years in prison. The murder of Khashoggi – nephew of the famous arms dealer and ‘star’ of the Marbella nights in the eighties Adnan Kashogui – goes far beyond a mere violation of human rights and an attack on freedom of expression. It is connected to the power struggles in Washington and Riyadh and indirectly touches Israel, Turkey, and Qatar.
So the release of the document is a Biden geostrategic manifesto. The murdered journalist was close to Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was head of Saudi Arabia’s spy services for 22 years, from 1979 (the year of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) until 2001 (when he left office exactly ten days before the 9/11 attacks). In those two decades, Turki played a key role in the alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia to combat Khomeini’s Iran and, also, in the ‘internationalization’ of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan by sending tens of thousands of volunteers from the entire Arab world, far more fanatical than the Afghans fighting the communists. Among those volunteers is one particularly famous, Osama bin Laden. According to the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid in his 2000 book ‘Taliban’, published in Spain by Peninsula, Turki was key in the creation of the Taliban, and, until shortly before 9/11, he used to hunt bustards with Bin Laden in the Kandahar region, Afghanistan. The prince, who has denied those claims, was sent as ambassador to Britain, first, and to the United States, after 9/11, as part of the Saudi strategy to rebuild its relations with the West after the attacks.
The progressive deterioration of the mental faculties of the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman, who, at least since 2015 suffers from Alzheimer’s, according to the Western press, changed the equation of power in the country. The crown prince, MBS, took the reins of power and carried out a formidable ‘purge’ of the old guard, including Turki, the protector of Khashoggi. MBS has also launched a modernization program for Saudi Arabia based on the Chinese model, that is, offering opportunities for economic liberalization and openness abroad in terms of trade and investment, which has included trying to reduce the country’s dependence on oil. and the partial privatization of the state hydrocarbon company, Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest company by market value. In return, it has reinforced the already strict political control of the country. These transformations also occurred with the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House.
The new agenda was immediately accepted by the president, and MBS also managed to forge an excellent relationship with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, thanks in part to a snowfall in Washington in 2017 that forced the prince to stay for several days. in the United States capital in 2017. It is no coincidence that Trump’s first trip abroad was precise to Saudi Arabia and Israel. This is how the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia with Trump surpassed even the levels it had had with presidents like Ronald Reagan, George Bush’s father’, and Bill Clinton. Washington strengthened its support for Riyadh in its war in Yemen, and the two countries advanced on the path of recognition of the state of Israel by the Arab countries, including the Emirates, Morocco, Sudan, and Bahrain, all of them allies of Saudi Arabia and, in the case of Bahrain, practically a colony.
But the arrival of Biden has broken that equation. And also with Israel. If Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the first 24 hours after he arrived at the White House, it has taken Biden a month to contact Benjamin Netanyahu. With Saudi Arabia, the White House has suspended military aid to the war in Yemen, and has declared that it is going to “reassess” its relations with the country, which, moreover, will be carried out directly “with its counterpart”, that is, with King Salman, and not with the prince. It is not clear that Salman is in a position to exercise leadership in the country. But what is clear is that MBS’s ‘direct line’ to Washington is over. Khashoggi’s death report is the record of the divorce between Crown Prince U and the White House.