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October 16, 2018 5:45 am

The Princely Bubble Has Burst

avatar by Eyal Zisser / Israel Hayom /


Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photo: Bandar Algaloud / Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court / Handout via Reuters. – Only a few weeks ago, with US-Turkey relations on ‎the rocks over the detention of Pastor ‎Andrew Brunson, it seemed like Saudi Arabia was ‎poised to be the country on which the United States ‎plans to base its regional policy.‎

But when it comes to the Middle East, a few weeks ‎may as well be an eternity. Brunson’s release over ‎the weekend has put Ankara back in Washington’s good ‎graces, while the murder of exiled Saudi journalist ‎Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul ‎has placed Riyadh on a collision course with the ‎White House. ‎

Khashoggi’s gruesome murder by a rumored Saudi ‎‎”assassination squad” has outraged the international ‎community and the United States, and they want ‎answers. ‎

The biggest surprise in this sordid affair came over ‎the apparent involvement of Saudi Crown Prince ‎Mohammed bin Salman in the plot, which shattered ‎his carefully crafted image as a progressive, ‎enlightened Saudi leader, raising serious questions ‎about the judgment of the man currently leading ‎major Saudi policies. ‎

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Since being named crown prince in 2007, Mohammed has ‎been hailed by the West as the man who could lead ‎the Persian Gulf kingdom into the 21st century.‎

He was off to a promising start, introducing a ‎vision meant to modernize Saudi Arabia and pushing ‎many reforms, including some concerning women’s ‎rights. Politically, he proved determined to ‎curb Iran’s ambitions in the region and voiced ‎surprisingly moderate views on Israel. ‎

But political experience and shrewdness are acquired ‎with agony, and the crown prince proved reckless ‎more than once.‎

His positions against Iran’s involvement in the ‎Yemeni civil war, for example, has plunged Saudi ‎Arabia into a costly conflict with no end in sight. ‎Another fiasco was the alleged “abduction” ‎of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, during which ‎he resigned his post while visiting Riyadh. The ‎move, which Lebanon claimed was made under duress, ‎strained Saudi-Lebanese ties to the ‎point where Riyadh claimed Beirut had declared war ‎between the two.‎

The dispute, thought to be part of the larger Iran-‎Saudi Arabia ‎proxy conflict, eventually ended when ‎Hariri returned to Lebanon and rescinded his ‎resignation. ‎

And now the prince is allegedly embroiled in the ‎murder of a Saudi journalist on Turkish soil.‎

Disposing of dissidents is a matter of routine in ‎the Middle East — and elsewhere in the world — where ‎critics of certain governments seem to disappear or die under mysterious ‎circumstances. Europe is no stranger to this ‎practice either, as one can learn from the poisoning ‎of Russian defectors on British soil. ‎

But silencing dissidents on foreign soil is ‎playing with fire. Those who claim to be part of the ‎enlightened Western world must accept some of its ‎rules and values, and more importantly, they must ‎exhibit prudence and sophistication. ‎

The Istanbul assassination showed neither and the ‎West now wants the Saudis to pay for their crimes.‎

At the end of the day, a compromise will be found to ‎remove this affair from the public and diplomatic ‎agendas. Junior Saudi officials will undoubtedly be ‎made to shoulder the blame and Riyadh will surely ‎pledge to prosecute them to the fullest extent of ‎the law. ‎

Still, Khashoggi’s assassination has turned Saudi ‎Arabia into the Middle East’s “bad boy.” Saudi ‎Arabia’s allies, including the United States and ‎Israel, had expected more from Crown Prince Mohammed ‎bin Salman and their disappointment is palpable. ‎

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

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