A recently declassified US intelligence report dealing with the circumstances surrounding the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has elicited strong reactions from Saudi and other Arab leaders. The now declassified document confirmed previous news reports that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) had personally authorized the targeting of the Saudi journalist. The report’s main findings have been criticized by Saudi officials and their regional allies, accusing the Biden administration of trying to weaken Saudi Arabia as the US moves closer to Iran. Others accuse the US administration of double standards, pointing out its unwillingness to address the involvement of Iran in the disappearance of several journalists over the last several years.
Reporting on the latest fallout from the report, the UAE daily The National published an official statement from the Saudi government in which it denied the report’s conclusions, “rejected the allegations, and called them ‘incorrect’ and ‘unacceptable’. ‘The Kingdom's government categorically rejects the abusive and incorrect conclusions contained in the report about the Kingdom's leadership and [they] cannot be accepted in any way,’ the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement. ‘The Ministry reiterates what was previously announced by the relevant authorities in the Kingdom, that this was an abhorrent crime and a flagrant violation of the Kingdom’s laws and values’, it added.”
Saudi Arabia has also received public support from government officials in the neighboring countries, many of whom, according to this Khaleej Times report, agreed that the Khashoggi matter was one that needed to be dealt with by the Saudi authorities, rather than the US: “The Gulf states rallied behind Saudi Arabia regarding the report submitted to the US Congress on journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death and backed its statement on the issue…. The UAE in a statement expressed its support for Saudi Arabia’s statement on Khashoggi. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its confidence in and support for the Saudi judiciary, as well as Saudi Arabia’s commitment to enforcing the law with transparency and integrity and holding those responsible to account.... Kuwait and Bahrain too expressed their support to the Saudi foreign ministry’s statement.”
Gulf News Senior News Editor Tawfiq Nasrallah points out that additional support for the Saudi Crown Prince has also come from Oman and the Gulf Cooperation Council representatives, both of which agree that the report’s findings are inconclusive: “Oman has reiterated its support for and solidarity with Saudi Arabia in its position regarding the report by the US Congress on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, according to the Oman News Agency (ONA).... The Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Nayef Al Hajraf, expressed his support for the statements made by Saudi Arabia on the US intel report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership regarding the murder, the council said in a statement on Saturday. The assessment on the Saudi leadership’s involvement in the murder of Khashoggi is not based on conclusive evidence, Al Hajraf said.”
Meanwhile, the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram quotes the secretary-general of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who cautioned against the politicization of the matter and “stressed support to the statement released by the Saudi foreign ministry on the United States intelligence report about the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In a statement, the Arab League chief said that only Saudi judicial authorities are responsible for holding those involved accountable.... Human rights issues should not be politicized, Aboul Gheit concluded.”
Tariq Al-Homayed, a Saudi journalist and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, goes beyond the usual expressions of solidarity with the Saudi royal to explore the dynamics surrounding the release of the intelligence report as well as the motivations for it: “Indeed, Khashoggi’s killing is a crime. But the demonization of Saudi Arabia started early on, taking place right after the kingdom opposed the unfair nuclear agreement with Iran, Obama's reckless stances regarding the Arab Spring, and Washington’s sympathizing with Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood while failing the Syrian popular revolution to please Tehran.... Publishing the intelligence report created the noise needed to show that the Biden administration was sticking to its election campaign pledges. Although it went on to deal with Riyadh normally, the Biden administration is following in the footsteps of the Obama-era agenda for demonizing Saudi Arabia. For that reason, we have to be wary of this political pastime of vilifying Saudi Arabia, because its goals are rooted in ideology. More so, leftists in the US are moving away from Israel because of their position on Iran. They are also inciting against dealing with Egypt.”
In an op-ed for the Saudi daily Arab News, Tarek Ali Ahmad takes a different tack as he mounts a defense of the Saudi officials identified in the report by accusing the United States of double standards, especially in light of Iran’s activities in the region: “Critics are asking why the US administration is not deploying the same standards to the killers of other journalists, and those involved with similar violence across the region.... Indeed, while this month’s killing of Lebanese publisher and vocal Hezbollah critic Luqman Slim was condemned by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that was as far as it went — and his statement even shied away from naming the known culprits, Hezbollah.... President Biden’s pursuit to label Saudi Arabia as a pariah, [which] he previously argued for, comes at the cost of allowing Iran and its armed groups in the region to literally get away with murder.... So as the US continues to appease Iran in order to bring it back to the nuclear negotiation table, its proxies could get away with silencing even more journalists and critics.”
The Iranian government has observed with glee the public naming and shaming of its erstwhile regional adversary. A Tehran Times article characterizes the release of the report as an attempt on the part of the Biden administration to “turn up the heat on MBS,” but then rushing to add that the “review should not be seen as a break from the U.S. traditional alliance with Saudi Arabia. Biden is believed to be putting pressure on bin Salman to prevent him from pursuing destructive policies such as the Yemen War and undercutting any prospect for a renewed talk between Iran and the West over the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).... The Biden administration simply started using this leverage to get more concessions from the Saudis. Some pundits believe that the Biden administration, by releasing the secret report incriminating MBS, seeks to set the stage for ousting him and replacing him with a more favorable and more balanced prince.”