The plan to assign blame to Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince, would be an extraordinary recognition of the magnitude of international backlash to hit the kingdom since the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident. A resident of Virginia and contributor to The Washington Post, Mr. Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Blaming General Assiri could also provide a plausible explanation for the apparent killing and help deflect blame from the crown prince, who American intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced was behind Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.
After two weeks of blanket denials and mounting pressure from Turkey and Washington, Saudi Arabia said it would conduct its own investigation to determine who was responsible.
[Four of the suspects in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance belong to the security team of the Saudi crown prince.]
Whether that move will be enough to calm the international crisis and what it may mean for Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler, remain to be seen.
President Trump, who has made the crown prince a pillar of his Middle East policy, has been equivocal, at times raising questions about Saudi Arabia’s culpability and resisting calls from Congress for sanctions. On Thursday, Mr. Trump said he believed that Mr. Khashoggi was dead and that “the consequences should be severe.”
Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, has been urging the president to stand by the prince, according to a person close to the White House and a former official with knowledge of the discussions.
Mr. Kushner has argued that the crown prince can survive the outrage just as he has weathered past criticism.
American lawmakers of both parties, however, are expressing far greater horror at what appears to be the brutal killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a veteran of the Saudi establishment who was well known among journalists and diplomats. His story has captured the attention of the American public far more than the mass killings and other atrocities in the region, and a growing number of lawmakers are demanding some sanction.
General Assiri, who previously served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, is close enough to the crown prince to have easy access to his ear and has considerable authority to enlist lower-ranking personnel in a mission.
The Saudi rulers are expected to say that General Assiri received oral authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Mr. Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident’s life, according to two of the people familiar with the Saudi plans. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.
Even in this scenario, however, Prince Mohammed would still have ordered an operation to abduct a resident of the United States, apparently only on the basis of his public criticism of Saudi leaders.
Categories: The Muslim Times