By Prarthana Mitra
After over a month of investigation into US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, the CIA confirmed on Friday that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the assassination of the Washington Post columnist.
What makes the CIA more confident today than it was last month?
The American investigative agency concluded the crown prince’s involvement based on his stranglehold on his country’s internal affairs, and the recently acquired intercepts of his international calls in the days leading up to the killing, as well as of those placed by the hit squad to his senior advisor right afterwards. In one of them, an agent told the aide to “tell your boss” that the mission had been accomplished.
Ever since Khashoggi’s disappearance from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, Turkish investigators have alleged that it was an assassination but stopped short of holding Salman directly culpable in the premeditated murder, gruesome details of which emerged in the following weeks.
What have the US and Saudi administration said so far?
The global and media pressure on the US to take serious action against their closest ally in the Middle East mounted after President Donald Trump, and particularly the Jared Kushner camp, tried their best to protect MBS from blame initially.
Kushner, who has always pushed for strong economic and strategic relationship with the kingdom, advised Trump to maintain support for the crown prince even after Turkey released recordings suggesting Khashoggi was ambushed, killed, and dismembered within the consulate.
Saudi Arabia, in the meantime,has changed its narrative multiple times. They first claimed that the journalist got into a fist fight, later admitting that he was killed with a lethal dose of tranquillisers and then dismembered. But the kingdom has so far remained steadfast in their account exonerating the crown prince of any blame or responsibility.
CIA report turns up the pressure for White House
This latest and more definitive report from the CIA comes after weeks of MBS’s outright denial about having been in the know, and some are fairly confident that not even this controversy will drive him from power. In fact, MBS is reported to have sought the death penalty against five of the perpetrators, which include members of the Saudi government and intelligence, for allegedly plotting the whole operation behind his back.
This further creates a dilemma for the US over whether cutting ties with the crown prince would be in America’s best interests. Several Republican senators, however, have demanded distance from Saudi Arabia and severe congressional action including demands to release jailed activists and dissidents, and to end the war on Yemen, among others.
Turkey’s diplomatic resurgence
At the same time, a recent report by the NBC stated that the US State Department is considering the deportation of Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is now an American resident, to reduce Ankara’s pressure on Washington and Riyadh over Khashoggi’s murder. Wanted in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey for having allegedly orchestrated an attempted coup in 2016, Gülen has had permanent US residency for over two decades, which could make reopening his extradition file trickier.
Although spokespersons of the US State Department have denied the link between the possible deportation of Gülen and the murder of Khashoggi, Turkey does have unexpected leverage in international diplomacy in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s murder on its soil. As the investigation into MBS’s involvement continues, it is appears that the US needs re-examine its relationship with, and dependence on the Middle Eastern kingdom.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.