IF Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, were a burglar, he would not be George Clooney in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. He would be a cartoon burglar in a carnival mask and a top with black-and-white horizontal stripes, carrying a sack labelled ‘SWAG’.
He is not a burglar, of course. He is a murderer, and ‘MBS’, as he is universally known, was back in the news last Friday when the US government released a declassified assessment by US intelligence agencies confirming his responsibility for the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Donald Trump sat on the intelligence report, defended MBS, and said his own intelligence experts were wrong. “I saved his ass!” Trump boasted to Fox News. But Khashoggi was working for the Washington Post when he was killed, and Joe Biden takes a dim view of foreign leaders murdering American journalists even if they are not citizens.
It must be bewildering for the Crown Prince: two months ago the US president was his best buddy, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was his second-best buddy, and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had honorary buddy status too. Now Biden has replaced Trump, Netanyahu may also be out after this month’s elections, and Putin is not answering his texts.
Biden did not just publish the report on Khashoggi’s murder. He ended US support for MBS’s foolish, futile war in Yemen, put US arms sales on hold, and refused to speak to the Crown Prince. (Biden finally called Saudi Arabia, almost last on the list, but would only talk to MBS’s 85-year-old father, King Salman.)
So there has been much speculation about what Biden can or should do next about the Mad Killer of Riyadh, and the answer is – nothing at all. Just give him enough rope, and he will hang himself. He is wicked and ruthless, certainly, but he is also ignorant about how the rest of the world works, very arrogant, and quite stupid.
If my pipes burst, I call the plumber. If my car breaks down, I take it to the garage. If I am very rich and I want somebody killed, I find an hit-man and have the job done professionally. I do not get a few of my mates to do it; I hire an expert.
MBS sent a team of fifteen men — fifteen! — to Turkey on a private plane, bringing the tools to kill and dismember Khashoggi with them. It was one of Istanbul’s smaller airports, but the Turks were certainly going to record when they landed and when they left. Then they lured Khashoggi to the Saudi consulate to pick up some papers so he could marry his Turkish fiancée.
Wait a minute. MBS thought it would be a cool idea to kill Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in a country that is hostile to the Saudi regime? He sent seven members of his own personal security force as part of the team? And they did not even sweep the consulate for Turkish bugs in the room where they killed and dismembered Khashoggi?
It was amateur night for slow learners. The hit team even sent a Khashoggi ‘body double’ dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes out the back door to be seen leaving the consulate by the security cameras. The Turks had the whole story in 24 hours, with the Saudi regime retreating from one lie to another before blaming it on ‘rogue operators’ three weeks later.
By then you would think MBS would have seen the error of his ways. Next time he wants to kill a self-exiled Saudi critic of the regime, just get one of the intelligence attaches at the Saudi embassy there to hire a local hit-man.
But not our boy! Only two weeks later, while the Saudi regime is still denying the Khashoggi murder, MBS sends another Saudi hit team, perhaps including some of the same men, to Canada to kill another self-exiled critic of the regime, Dr Saad al-Jabri.
Amateur night again! The novice assassins deny knowing one another, and are refused entry to Canada by immigration officials at the airport find photos showing them together.
This attempted hit has never been officially confirmed, but a document published by Public Safety Canada on 7 August last year comes very close indeed. The fact that Prime Minister Trudeau was the first national leader who received the Turkish recordings of the Khashoggi murder to go public with them just around that time adds weight to the allegation.
MBS is frightening, but he is really not very bright. And a Saudi leader that the US president will not even talk to does not have a brilliant future.
Dyer is a London-based independent journalist. His new book is titled Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).