Saudi-West escalating tensions threaten to cause unpredictable consequences

Wednesday, 2018-10-24 12:51:52
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Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – Tensions have escalated in relations between Saudi Arabia and the West after the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Both the United States and its key allies, such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany, vehemently opposed the suspected murder of the journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Political tensions threaten to damage the US’s economic interests, although Saudi Arabia has said it will not use oil as a weapon, as Riyadh had done to cause a crisis in 1973.

Western countries simultaneously delivered their strongest words against the murder of Khashoggi. The US, the UK, and Germany have expressed dissatisfaction with the Saudi officials’ interpretation that the journalist died after a fight inside its Istanbul consulate. The West demanded an investigation to expose the truth. German Chancellor Angela Merkel affirmed that Berlin would stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia until the cause of the case is unveiled. Germany also called on the European Union (EU) member nations to take the same action. The move from Berlin has significantly impacted the relationship between the EU’s leading economy and Saudi Arabia, especially in the context of the German government’s recent adoption of weapon deals with Saudi Arabia worth US$462 million, making the Gulf country become Berlin’s second largest importer of weapons.

The Turkish side has hinted at releasing “seismic” information after investigating the incident. Omer Celik, the spokesman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), stated that the controversial death of journalist Khashoggi was a “very complicated murder” which had been “violently planned”. An adviser to the Turkish president said that Saudi’s explanation “disregarded” the world opinion in the context of the West’s increasingly profound doubts about the mysterious death of Khashoggi.

Journalist and political commentator Khashoggi had been missing from October 2 after entering the Saudi consulate to obtain documents for his pending marriage to a Turkish fiancee. Despite having Saudi citizenship, Khashoggi had written many articles for the Washington Post, which expressed views opposing Saudi’s engagement and role in the conflict in Yemen. Concerned about being threatened due to the dissent, he arrived to live in the US and sought to become a US citizen after his exile in 2017. Therefore, Khashoggi’s killing right inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is considered a move of “cutting off nose to spite face”, seriously damaging US-Saudi alliance.

US President Donald Trump has used the strongest words to oppose the ally. In his latest response, President Trump accused Saudi Arabia of “lying” about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. However, he also affirmed that Washington did not want to lose investments from the Middle East country. Although the US leader said that he was not satisfied with Saudi’s response to the death of Khashoggi, and that he would impose a severe punishment if the murder of the journalist was confirmed, he did not want to set aside multi-billion dollar arms deals with Riyadh.

In the face of strong public pressure, Saudi Arabia has stated that Riyadh does not plan to re-impose an oil embargo, as what had been done to cause a severe oil crisis in 1973. The statement comes amid fears that Riyadh could use oil exports as a political “weapon” due to escalating tensions concerning the death of Khashoggi. In 1973, the oil crisis occurred when the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) countries, including Saudi Arabia, issued an embargo as sanctions against those supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Under the embargo, the OPEC banned exports of oil to countries such as the US and Japan, resulting in an unprecedented oil crisis. In order to relieve the current public opinion, Riyadh has announced the arrest of 18 Saudi people and the sacking of two senior assistants of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and three Saudi intelligence officers.

While waiting for a thorough and official investigation result concerning the death of Khashoggi, the public opinion is hoping for cooperation from the Saudi Arabian side. With the regional role and position of an “oil king”, escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and the West can lead to unpredictable consequences.