So Jamal Khashoggi didn’t just happen to start a fistfight with 15 Saudi operatives sent to hold a Socratic debate with him over proper governance? Go figure. The Saudi Arabian government changed its story yet again over Khashoggi’s murder, admitting that it was a “premeditated …crime,” reversing two weeks of denials and laughable cover stories:
Prosecutors in Saudi Arabia conceded Thursday that the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate was premeditated, once again altering the Saudi government’s official account of the killing.
“General Prosecution: Information from the Turkish side affirms that the suspects in Khashoggi’s case premeditated their crime,” the Saudi Press Agency, which is controlled by the government, wrote on its English-language Twitter account Friday morning.
Even more interesting is the credit they give for changing their story:
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said on Thursday that Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a planned operation, citing information it received from Turkish investigators in Istanbul, according to a statement from the kingdom’s Foreign Ministry. …
The Foreign Ministry did not say what led the prosecutor to draw that conclusion, only that it was based on information shared by Turkish investigators working with Saudi officials in Turkey. According to the statement, the Saudi prosecutor will continue its investigation based on the new information.
So now the Turks have it right? That’s another change of position worth noting. Of course, after having set up several cover stories only to have the evidence demolish them, they don’t have many other options, I suppose. When even your friends call it the “worst cover-up in history,” it’s time to take a different tack.
The admission comes as the EU overwhelmingly voted to support a non-binding resolution for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, including any equipment that might get used for oppression. Germany expressed concern over open “question marks” in the murder:
European Union lawmakers are calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia as well as a ban on equipment that could be used in any government crackdown.
The lawmakers voted Thursday by 325 for, 1 against and 19 abstentions on a resolution calling on member countries “to impose an EU-wide arms embargo on Saudi Arabia” in response to the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The non-binding resolution also demands a halt to exports “of surveillance systems and other dual-use items that may be used in Saudi Arabia for the purposes of repression.”
Pressure is still growing for Trump to take similar action, but that’s a tough and complicated issue. The US needs to act firmly to make it plain that such crimes have serious consequences, but Saudi Arabia is also the linchpin in our strategy to contain Iran as well. That is a critical issue in the region for both the US and Israel, as well as our other Sunni Arab allies, Jordan in particular. We can’t cut them loose any more than they can cut us loose. Our shared national interests won’t just disappear.
On the admission of premeditation, this opens up another can of worms. If this team went to Turkey with the purpose of killing Khashoggi, who ordered them to go? The members of this team have ties at the highest levels — meaning Mohammed bin Salman himself. It makes it very hard to sustain the “rogue killers” thesis with the involvement of Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a close adviser to MbS himself. That doesn’t mean the Saudis won’t try to pass this off as a Henry II/Thomas Becket situation — a “who will rid me of this turbulent priest” remark taken too literally — as Hugh Hewitt theorized last week. However, in a royal family this regimented and especially with MbS setting himself up as the only power around the throne with his purges and crackdowns, it makes it much harder to believe that one of his own closest advisers would suddenly go rogue.
One has to wonder whether King Salman might be considering a change in succession, passing off control to one of his other sons. That might be what it takes to quell the outrage and keep allies in place for a royal family that can ill afford to go it alone.