Several media reports have recently suggested that the Saudi royals' internal family feud is the main reason behind the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul on Oct.2. "Behind the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi lays a power struggle within the Saudi royal family that helped feed the paranoia and recklessness of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS], [which] eventually led to the death of Khashoggi," The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. Khashoggi, a frequent contributor to The Washington Post and critic of the crown prince, was killed on Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
After weeks of denying any involvement in the crime, Saudi Arabia later admitted that Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate but denied that the royal family and crown prince had any prior knowledge. The incident was blamed on lower-level officials, including five that are now facing the death penalty over their involvement.
According to the journal, the family feud began when King Salman ascended to the throne with the death his half-brother King Abdullah in 2015, sparking a fierce rivalry between King Salman's son MBS and King Abdullah's son Turki bin Abdullah in pursuit of power.
As the tension increased between the princes, MBS had reportedly become increasingly anxious and aggressive toward those he considered enemies, organizing the kidnappings of dissidents and staging an internal coup on Nov. 4 that resulted with the arrest of more than 200 people including Saudi princes. During the MBS's purge, Turki was also arrested.
Another media report linking the Saudi prince and the Khashoggi's killing also emerged yesterday in the Israel-based Haaretz newspaper. According to a recording of a conversation obtained by Haaretz, a man saying he represented MBS made a phone call to Ehud Barak, the former prime minister of Israel, in 2015, asking Barak to help him sell cybertech that would assist the Saudis in wiretapping its citizens and enemies.
MBS trying to recover
Despite the mounting media accusations over him, MBS has continued efforts to shore up his tarnished reputation by visiting various countries, which was labelled as allies by the kingdom. Following his visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt this week, the crown prince visited Tunisia on Tuesday as a part of his Arab tour. He was welcomed by Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi who later emphasized "the good ties with Saudi Arabia" in a press conference.
Yet, MBS could not evade from protests of Tunisian people over the killing of Khashoggi nor international scrutiny that criticize his attendance to G20 summit. Members of the Jamal Khashoggi Friends Association called on world leaders Tuesday to reject MBS's participation in this week's G20 summit in Argentina, saying that his presence was a "clear challenge" to the values and principles of the G20.
Ignoring all the criticism, MBS is set to participate to G20 summit on Friday along with his father. While the crown prince is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House said Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump is not scheduled to meet with him.
Pompeo: US-Saudi partnership is vital
Although the U.S. imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials who were allegedly involved in Khashoggi's murder, Trump has been hesitant to take further steps, noting that Washington's intent to remain a close ally of Riyadh.
Supporting Trump's stance, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday that he did not listen to recordings of Khashoggi's killing. He asserted that he doesn't speak Arabic and would thus gain nothing from hearing the audio.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also stressed the same stance in his "The U.S.-Saudi partnership is vital" article published in The Wall Street Journal yesterday.
Pointing out that a partnership with Saudi Arabia has its benefits in various fields, Pompeo wrote that Riyadh is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East and contributed millions of dollars to the U.S.-led efforts to fight Daesh in Syria.
Pompeo underscored that some people are using the Khashoggi murder with ulterior motives to undermine Trump's Saudi Arabia policy and support rapprochement with Iran. He added that "the Trump administration will consider further punitive measures if more facts about Khashoggi's murder come to light."
Recordings point Saudi crown prince's role
Trump's attempts to whitewash the crown prince's role in the killing have come under criticism after the CIA concluded with a high level of confidence that MBS ordered the killing of Khashoggi, according to the recordings, a key piece of evidence obtained by Turkey.
"What obviously happened, as basically certified by the CIA, is completely abhorrent to everything the United States holds dear and stands for," said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is considered a top ally of Trump, on Tuesday.
McConnell underscored that some kind of response should be given for the role of the Saudis without totally fracturing the U.S. relationship with Riyadh. Pompeo and the Defense Secretary James Mattis were due to give a briefing on U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia yesterday to the entire Senate behind closed doors.