Opinion

Why We Should Go Easy on the Saudi Crown Prince

For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived

Demonstrators dressed as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Donald Trump protest outside the White House, October 19, 2018.
AFP

Turkey, a human rights champion under Erdogan, is accusing Saudi Arabia, another human rights champion, of the abhorrent murder of a Saudi journalist who entered the lion’s den in Istanbul and, as befits horror stories typical of places like Syria China, Iran, Russia and North Korea, disappeared from sight. Now we have recordings and videotapes, allegedly from the Saudi consulate, suggesting that his body was chopped into pieces.

The underlying reason for this gruesome act, that evokes something conjured up by the Coen brothers, is not completely clear. One shouldn’t treat any death lightly, particularly not a murder committed by an evil government. However, because of the political ramifications involved, it’s worth contemplating this episode a bit more.

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It’s possible that just like Putin, the Saudi royal house cannot tolerate any criticism, which is why it decided to eliminate the rogue journalist in an acid bath (a no less likely possibility that has not yet been suggested by the authorities in Ankara). It’s possible that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is gnashing his teeth over Saudi Arabia’s bolstered global status, particularly vis-à-vis U.S. President Donald Trump, and over the central role played by Mohammed bin Salman in a regional coalition meant to block Iranian influence in the Middle East — which is why Erdogan is bent on deflating the Crown Prince’s image.

Erdogan may want to humiliate the Saudis, but his main goal is foiling the plan apparently devised by Trump and Mohammed to forge a regional alliance under the aegis of the United States, an alliance that includes Israel, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt (and possibly Iraq). These countries will jointly try to block Iran, which endangers all of them. Turkey, which is struggling to find an as-yet-undetermined place within the Arab Muslim world, does not strive merely to lead the Sunni world. It also wants to depict Israel as a foreign colonialist implant in the Middle East. Any legitimization afforded Israel thanks to an alliance with Arab states has negative implications for Erdogan.

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But fate obviously has a sense of humor. It has embroiled the Turkish rivalry with Saudi Arabia in the U.S. midterm elections. Since Mohammed is currently Trump’s most important international ally, mainly for economic reasons, the campaign advocating a “liberal order,” espoused by international media assailing the Saudi leader, is buzzing with excitement. Its main objective is not the brushing aside of Saudi Arabia, but the delivery of a humiliating knockout blow to Trump and his economic plans.

According to Time magazine, the level of public support for Trump remains stable at 43 percent, similar to that of Obama, Clinton and Reagan at comparative phases in their terms. It’s no wonder that after the failed attacks on Trump, who immerged unscathed from the intimidation of migrant children, the Stormy Daniels saga and the attempt to prevent the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, the left is eager to pounce on the Saudi murder case as if it has found a treasure trove.

However, this time it’s necessary to treat the suspect with kid gloves. Trump’s peace initiative, if it is ever put on the table, is apparently the direct result of pressure by Mohammed bin Salman, who wishes to legitimize Israel before embarking on open cooperation with it. For 50 years we’ve prayed for a key Arab leader who agrees to sign a significant pact with Israel. Such a leader has finally arrived, and calls to depose him, such as those by former U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro in an op-ed in Haaretz (October 21) are destructive and in keeping with the best Obama tradition. Anyone waiting for a world of the purely just will have to struggle all his life with the purely evil.