Iranian media hammered Saudi Arabia and its ally the United States over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi this week, accusing the arrogant Saudi “empire” of murder and the U.S. of complicity in the deed.
Iran is certainly no stranger to murdering dissidents and abusing diplomatic privileges, as exemplified by the July arrest of an Iranian diplomat in Germany for plotting a bomb attack against dissidents in Paris. Iranian newspapers curiously forgot to mention this incident when excoriating the Saudis.
An op-ed at Mehr News on Monday hoped Khashoggi’s presumed murder will “awaken the world to the dangers of MBS,” the initials widely used to refer to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“The issue surrounding the fate of Khashoggi is also scandalous for those countries, especially the United States, which have been backing the Saudi kingdom especially its current ruler Mohammed bin Salman or MBS,” the editorial raged, accusing the Saudis of abusing their billions of dollars in U.S. arms purchases as economic leverage to demand a cover-up from Washington.
The Tasnim news agency interviewed California State University Professor Beau Grosscup on Monday to blame the United States for indulging Saudi repression to keep them on board with a sinister U.S.-Saudi-Israeli conspiracy against Iran:
I suspect the Crown Prince’s motive was to make clear to all dissidents and would be dissidents that his reach is global and the punishment severe as there has been little effort, other than public denials, to cover the assassination event.
I see it as a clear warning to critics of the new leader and his ‘reforms’, especially his recent ‘purges’ against the old guard, that young though he may be, he is in charge, and having been lauded by President Trump (and to some extent Israeli leadership) he feels he has a ‘green light’ to do whatever he pleases with only mild symbolic criticism.
He knows the real focus of US-Saudi-Israeli unity is regime change in Iran and that neither the Trump administration nor Israel will do anything to undermine that unity and its goal, especially the assassination of a ‘fake news’ Washington Post journalist.
President Trump has already signaled he is unwilling to take any meaningful action against the Saudi regime. He has showered the new Crown Prince with high praise, has an important business relationship with past Saudi regimes (as he himself has publicly noted), and has made clear he admires the autocratic rulers around the world, openly wishing he had their power and was able to adopt their methods of governing.
I suspect, even with a confirmation of the assassination, Trump will basically say to the Saudis, “please don’t do this again” and focus the world’s attention on ‘more important tasks’ requiring a strong US-Saudi relationship. Trump will find a way to push this ‘unfortunate event’ into the background and move on.
Fars News on Monday detected a “perfect political environment” for the international community to “impose economic sanctions and an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia,” which would cripple the Saudi war effort in Yemen and cede control of the country to the Iran-backed Houthi insurgency.
Fars accused the Saudis of manipulating social media to depict the Khashoggi case as a frame-up job perpetrated by Iran, Qatar, and Turkey against the Saudis. Instead, Fars insisted the case exposes the true “intolerant, divisive, confrontational, and oppressive” nature of Crown Prince bin Salman’s leadership:
What the Khashoggi affair cruelly demonstrates is that the Saudi regime’s unaccountable, repressive political control of the public sphere has in fact been expanded, reinforced and emboldened. Bin Salman feels he can do whatever he likes, with impunity, and that the Western world, misled by Trump, will tamely acquiesce, primarily out of economic and strategic self-interest. After all, this is what has been happening for decades.
But this policy is a mistake and boycotting investment conferences is nowhere near enough. Selling weaponry used to kill Yemeni children, and ignoring the jailing of Saudi activists is morally insupportable. So, too, is the gruesome murder of a man whose only offense was to speak his mind. Khashoggi’s murder has to be a turning point and the world must recognize it as such. That recognition could bear fruit if the Western world stops selling arms to Saudi Arabia and helps to punish the regime with economic sanctions.
Emperor Bin Salman thinks he can still fool the world with his bogus reforms. He thinks he is wearing brand new special, fabulous reforms that can’t be seen by those who are incompetent or unfit for their office; but he is not. The despot is naked. The world has noticed that and is calling out.
Iranian media coverage of the Khashoggi disappearance tends to have a few points in common: Crown Prince bin Salman is singled out as the incarnation of Saudi evil, the incident is linked to Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and opposition to Iran’s allegedly benevolent policy in Syria, and the Trump administration is blamed for turning away from the Iran nuclear deal and indulging the Saudis as part of its strategic realignment in the Middle East.
Iranian media has also been eager to play up tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi’s disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, picking up on the signals sent through Turkish media friendly to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he is angrier with the Saudis than his relatively cautious public statements would suggest.
All of these responses from Iran and other critics of the Saudi monarchy are entirely predictable, which makes it all the more curious that Crown Prince bin Salman or any “rogue” official would risk the devastating international fallout from abducting or murdering Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudis generally seem quite cognizant of the stakes in their regional showdown with Iran, but if the worst theories of the Khashoggi case are true, they left themselves exposed to a diplomatic blow from Tehran that could sever them from much of their Western support and profoundly alienated global media at the height of the most important public relations campaign in the history of the kingdom.