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October 24, 2018

Khashoggi's murder could be a game changer

The murder of a dissident journalist has had more global impact than unchecked Saudi aggression in Yemen.

Yemen is important for the Saudis and Emirates for many reasons.

For one, they view it; much like the US views Latin America, as their backyard. They are loath to seeing a government there that does not toe their line. They are also too obsessed with their competition with Iran and believe that they are preventing Iran from establishing a strong foothold there. The area is very strategic from geopolitical and economic standpoints given its location at the Bab Al-Mandib (important for sea lanes and transportation routes for commercial marine shipping and oil tankers) and proximity to the Horn of Africa, where the two countries have been extending their influence over the recent years. But such direct military interventions, which are usually born out of conceited blindness to the limits of military might and brutal force, are very dangerous and rarely succeed, especially in areas where geography and topography privilege defense. This brings to mind Henry Kissinger`s famous dictum that the conventional army loses if it does not win; the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The US intervention in Vietnam, the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan, and the Egyptian intervention in Yemen in the 1960s, is just a few cases in point. Unfortunately, all too often, those blinded by the arrogance of power become oblivious to such historical truisms.

Yemen’s fate hangs in the balance as the world watches heart-wrenching scenes of hospitals being bombed and sticks thin children crying because they’re hungry. Saudi conduct of its ill-fated war in Yemen with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chief proponent of this war and his often coercive approach to diplomatic relations, has opened the door to challenges of the kingdom’s moral leadership of the Sunni Muslim world, a legitimizing pillar of the ruling Al Saud family’s grip on power. Malaysia for one, “and other Muslim nations can no longer look up to the Saudis like we used to” says Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah Raja Ahmad, a member of Malaysia’s upper house of parliament. “They can no longer command our respect and provide leadership”

Despite thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen, both the UN Secretariat and the Security Council have been muted in their criticism of the Saudi-led coalition's actions in that country. The UN has received nearly $1 billion from Saudi Arabia and UAE for humanitarian response to Yemen crisis. But the cold blooded murder of Washington Post columnist and dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi could be a game changer. The violence enacted by Saudi aggression on the people of Yemen, springs from the same source as the violence allegedly used against Khashoggi in the Turkish embassy. Both are colossal, tragic, strategic errors involving the deployment of unimaginable brutality in a vain attempt to cow the imagined enemies of the Kingdom. It has finally unified the world and diverted the attention to the plight of the Yemenis facing famine, death and massive destruction. Washington views the savage against Yemen strictly through the lens of geo-strategic interests. It is seen as a means of countering Iranian influence and asserting US hegemony in the region.

As the news of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance at first and then his murder shocked people around the world, practically overnight, longtime American supporters of the alliance are disavowing the kingdom. American businesses are pulling back from Saudi Arabia. Even Washington think tanks, among the most pro-Saudi institutions in the United States, are sending back Saudi money.

As former CIA and Pentagon official Bruce Riedel said in 2016: “If the United States of America and the United Kingdom tonight told King Salman that this war has to end, it would end tomorrow, because the Royal Saudi Air force cannot operate without American and British support.”

The murder of one individual has provoked a backlash to Saudi practices in a way that mass suffering in Yemen did not. This is arguably the best chance the world had in years to end the horrendous war in Yemen. It should not go to waste.

The writer could be reached at

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M. Elmasry

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