At first, the targets were largely military, but this changed when the coalition failed to win the quick military success its members had expected
The plot to supposedly murder Jamal Khashoggi, as apparently proved by Turkish audio and video evidence shown to US officials, is a grizzly mixture of savagery and stupidity: Jack the Ripper meets Inspector Clouseau. Neither element is surprising because violent overreaction to minor threats is a traditional feature of dictatorial rule. As seems to be the case with Saudi Arabia today, Iraq under Saddam Hussein made immense efforts to eliminate exiled critics who posed no danger to the regime.
It is the purpose of such alleged assassinations and kidnappings to not only silence dissident voices however obscure, but to also intimidate all opponents at home and abroad by showing that even a hint of criticism will be suppressed with maximum force. But it is in the nature of dictators that their judgement is unbalanced because they never hear opinions contrary to their own. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 with disastrous results. Saudi Arabia started its war in Yemen in 2015, with similarly catastrophic results, and now appears to think that it can get away with brazenly assassinating Khashoggi, as apparently proved by Turkish investigators. Saudi Arabia firmly denies any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance and says he left the consulate safely that afternoon.
It is important to watch how long the torrent of criticism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Saudi Arabia will last. President Trump has been muted in his comments, emphasising the need to keep on terms with the Saudis because of the $110bn contract to sell them arms. Some of those most accustomed to kowtowing to Gulf monarchs, like Tony Blair, are comically reluctant to criticise Saudi Arabia despite the compelling evidence of the murder produced by Turkey. The best Blair can do is to say that the issue should be investigated and explained by Saudi Arabia “because otherwise it runs completely contrary to the process of modernisation”. Even for Blair this is surely a new low, and it could also be a dispiriting straw in the wind, suggesting that political elites in the US and UK will not be shocked for long and criticism will be confined to the alleged killing of Khashoggi.