If anybody had any doubts about the Washington’s determination to give Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman a pass over allegations that he was involved with the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump put them to rest earlier this week when he released a statement praising Saudi Arabia, openly questioning the CIA and stressing the importance of the US-Saudi relationship (while also portraying Khashoggi as a suspicious and untrustworthy figure with ties to terror groups).
And while rumors about a possible intra-family coup in Riyadh have been simmering since Khashoggi disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 (with the latest reports surfacing earlier this week), the notion that MbS’s spurned relatives might rise up and exact their revenge for last year’s brutal “corruption crackdown” at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton is looking increasingly improbable. In other words, as long as the international response to the Khashoggi incident is limited to countries that don’t sell weapons to Saudi Arabia ending arms sales to the kingdom, then MbS will almost certainly survive.
And in the latest indication that the royal family – not to mention nearly all of the Saudis’ regional allies – remains firmly behind the Crown Prince, even as the return of his uncle from exile has set tongues wagging about MbS’ impending ouster, one senior prince recently told Reuters that the CIA’s findings are “not to be trusted.”
The prince reportedly raised doubts about the CIA’s purported determination that MbS ordered Khashoggi’s murder, saying the agency’s many past failures suggest that it shouldn’t be relied upon to reach a credible conclusion.
“The CIA is not necessarily the highest standard of veracity or accuracy in assessing situations. The examples of that are multitude,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, a senior member of the royal family, told journalists in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
The prince, who served in the Saudi intelligence service, and also as ambassador to the US, has a point: the agency’s conclusion that Iraq possessed stockpiles of chemical weapons helped justify the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
“That was the most glaring of inaccurate and wrong assessments, which led to a full-scale war with thousands being killed,” he said, speaking at an event hosted by the New York-based Beirut Institute.
But Al-Faisal’s estimate is too generous. In reality, more than half a million people died in the Iraq War, or as a direct result of the instability that it created. All thanks to faulty CIA intelligence.
Yet nobody in the CIA went to prison or in any way took responsibility for these enormously costly mistakes. Something that Al-Faisal said he finds hard to believe.
“I don’t see why the CIA is not on trial in the United States. This is my answer to their assessment of who is guilty and who is not and who did what in the consulate in Istanbul.”
Still, some of the evidence that has been leaked to the press doesn’t look great for MbS. One Turkish newspaper reported this week that CIA director Gina Haspel had told Turkish officials that the agency had a recording of a call where the Crown Prince gave an order to “silence” Khashoggi.
Regardless, the public prosecutor who is handling the kingdom’s investigation recently revealed that five of the men arrested for their involvement with the murder could face the death penalty in a kingdom that still carries out an unknown number of executions by sword.
While past leaders might have left these types of blatant quid-pro-quos unsaid, Trump has also made it very clear that Saudi Arabia is helping keep oil prices low. If Trump changes course now, he risks knocking the market off-kilter once again.
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