Posts Tagged ‘Jared Kushner’

Democrat-run House may put Trump, Kushner business ties abroad under microscope — Pandora’s box?

November 8, 2018

First family’s international dealings in Mideast and elsewhere — and how they may affect administration policy — are all potential targets for investigation

In this Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump speaks with White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner as he departs after a reception in the East Room of the White House, in Washington. (AP /Alex Brandon)

In this Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump speaks with White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner as he departs after a reception in the East Room of the White House, in Washington. (AP /Alex Brandon)

PARIS (AP) — President Donald Trump’s Russian business ties, Jared Kushner’s relationship with the Saudi crown prince, Ivanka Trump’s Chinese trademarks — all could come under new scrutiny by the Democrats when they take over the House of Representatives.

While Trump retains broad power over national security and US foreign policy, the midterm election result exposes him to congressional investigations that could reverberate beyond American borders.

Now that they have taken control of the House from the Republicans, Democratic leaders of many committees will have subpoena powers enabling them to obtain documents, email and testimony.

If the White House doesn’t block such requests in court, they could shed light on Trump’s international business empire — and what role it’s playing in US relations with the world.

Here’s a look at what the election result might mean overseas:


For Moscow, the Democratic victory means a probable reopening of the House investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

The Republican-led Intelligence Committee closed its probe into Russian meddling, saying it had found no evidence of collusion. Democrats argue that the Republicans ignored many key facts and witnesses.

A congressional probe would be more public than special counsel Robert Mueller’s current investigation into Russian election interference — and wouldn’t run the risk of being shut down by Trump.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denies any involvement in Trump’s election victory, and the Kremlin shrugged off concerns that a Democratic-controlled House would increase pressure on Russia.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

“It’d be hard to make (the relationship) even worse,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.

A renewed investigation could serve Kremlin interests by deepening division in America’s political arena. What Putin would not favor would be investigations or sanctions that would further damage the well-connected Russian oligarchs believed to have links to Trump, or to have helped fund US meddling efforts.

Republicans warn that more investigations could blow back against the Democrats for the 2020 US election.


Then there’s Saudi Arabia, and the relationship between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The ties between the two men, who are said to communicate frequently, could come under increased scrutiny by Democrats.

The US and Saudi Arabia have long been key allies, and Trump made the country his first stop abroad as president.

White House adviser Jared Kushner waves, as he arrives at the Office of the United States Trade Representative for talks on trade with Canada, in Washington, DC, on August 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

But the crown prince has lost supporters in Congress since the Oct. 2 killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of the crown prince, inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The slaying was allegedly carried out by agents close to the prince.

Democrats could try to block major arms sales to Saudi Arabia and curtail US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which the prince launched as defense minister in 2015. The conflict has become widely unpopular with some members of Congress, and aid agencies say it has created the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe, with millions facing starvation amid a Saudi blockade of the Arab world’s poorest country.

The US assists the Saudi-led coalition with in-air refueling and intelligence on targets, and supplies the kingdom with fighter jets and bombs used in the war.

Trademarks in China

Democrats could also look into businesses in the Trump family’s business empire — notably the 18 trademarks that China has granted in recent months to companies linked to Trump and his daughter Ivanka.

Some question whether they represent a conflict of interest. China says it handles all trademark applications equally, but House committees could probe whether Beijing can exploit the Trump family’s substantial intellectual property holdings in China to its political or diplomatic advantage.

People walk past a propaganda billboard showing Chinese President Xi Jinping along a street in Beijing, Friday, March 2, 2018 (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

“There’s so much to the Trump administration that could be investigated, it’s an unprecedented situation of major business entanglements around the world,” said Dana Allin, senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s very difficult to rule out the idea that foreign policy decisions are not being kept separate from business interests.”

China would not talk publicly about the US election results. “I don’t want to comment on that, otherwise I will run the risk of being accused of interfering in their midterm election,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

What won’t change

Trump is still the one in charge and is not expected to change his America-first strategy, or stop running roughshod over erstwhile allies when it serves his interests.

A Democratic House isn’t going to put the US back in the Iranian nuclear accord or the Paris climate agreement, and is unlikely to challenge Trump’s protectionist line on trade.

“Many Democrats support the president’s trade agenda,” lamented Dieter Kempf, the head of the Federation of German Industries, the main business lobby group in Germany, a leading exporter. “The US administration’s confrontational course is and remains a danger to the world economy.”


Khashoggi, Erdogan’s verbal assaults add to talk of ‘instability’ in Saudi Arabia

November 7, 2018


Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli commentator, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth in May (in Hebrew), set out, unambiguously, the ‘deal’ behind Trump’s Middle East policy:

In the wake of the US exit from JCPOA [which occurred on 8 May], Trump, Barnea wrote, will threaten a rain of ‘fire and fury’ onto Tehran … whilst Putin is expected to restrain Iran from attacking Israel using Syrian territory, thus leaving Netanyahu free to set new ‘rules of the game’ by which the Israel may attack and destroy Iranian forces anywhere in Syria (and not just in the border area, as earlier agreed) when it wishes, without fear of retaliation.

Authored by Alastair Crooke via The Strategic Culture Foundation

Saudi Crown Prince says he loves working with the US president and that a lot has been achieved in the Middle East due to their partnership. (AFP/File)

This represented one level to the Netanyahu strategy: Iranian restraint, plus Russian acquiescence to coordinated Israeli air operations over Syria.

 “There is only one thing that isn’t clear [concerning this deal]”, a senior Israeli Defence official closest to Netanyahu, told Ben Caspit, “that is, who works for whom? Does Netanyahu work for Trump, or is President Trump at the service of Netanyahu … From the outside … it looks like the two men are perfectly in sync. From the inside, this seems even more so: This kind of cooperation … sometimes makes it seem as if they are actually just one single, large office”.

There has been, from the outset, a second level, too:

This entire ‘inverted pyramid’ of Middle East engineering had, as its single point of departure, Mohammed bin Salman (MbS).

It was Jared Kushner, the Washington Post reports, who “championed Mohammed as a reformer poised to usher the ultraconservative, oil-rich monarchy into modernity. Kushner privately argued for months, last year, that Mohammed would be key to crafting a Middle East peace plan, and that with the prince’s blessing, much of the Arab world would follow”. It was Kushner, the Post continued, “who pushed his father-in-law to make his first foreign trip as president to Riyadh, against objections from then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – and warnings from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis”.

Well, now MbS has, in one form or another, been implicated in the Khashoggi murder.  Bruce Riedel of Brookings, a longtime Saudi observer and former senior CIA & US defence official, notes“for the first time in 50 years, the kingdom has become a force for instability” (rather than stability in the region), and suggests that there is an element  of ‘buyer’s remorse’ now evident in parts of Washington.

The ‘seamless office process’ to which the Israeli official referred with Caspit, is known as ‘stovepiping’, which is when a foreign state’s policy advocacy and intelligence are passed straight to a President’s ear – omitting official Washington from the ‘loop’; by-passing any US oversight; and removing the opportunity for officials to advise on its content.  Well, this has now resulted in the Khashoggi strategic blunder.  And this, of course, comes in the wake of earlier strategic ‘mistakes’: the Yemen war, the siege of Qatar, the Hariri abduction, the Ritz-Carlton princely shakedowns.

To remedy this lacuna, an ‘uncle’ (Prince Ahmad bin Abdel Aziz) has been dispatched from exile in the West to Riyadh (with security guarantees from the US and UK intelligences services) to bring order into these unruly affairs, and to institute some checks and balances into the MbS coterie of advisers, so as to prevent further impetuous ‘mistakes’.  It seems too, that the US Congress wants the Yemen war, which Prince Ahmad consistently has opposed (as he opposed MbS elevation as Crown Prince), stopped. (General Mattis has called for a ceasefire within 30 days.) It is a step toward repairing the Kingdom’s image.

MbS remains – for now – as Crown Prince. President Sisi and Prime Minister Netanyahu both have expressed their support for MbS and “as U.S. officials contemplate a more robust response [to the Khashoggi killing], Kushner has emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Saudi alliance in the region”, the Washington Post reports. MbS’ Uncle (who as a son of King Abdel Aziz, under the traditional succession system, would be himself in line for the throne), no doubt hopes to try to undo some of the damage done to the standing of the al-Saud family, and to that of the Kingdom.  Will he succeed?  Will MbS accede now to Ahmad unscrambling the very centralisation of power that made MbS so many enemies, in the first place, to achieve it?  Has the al-Saud family the will, or are they too disconcerted by events?

And might President Erdogan throw more wrenches into this delicate process by further leaking evidence Turkey has, if Washington does not attend sufficiently to his demands.  Erdogan seems ready to pitch for the return of Ottoman leadership for the Sunni world, and likely still holds some high-value cards up his sleeve (such as intercepts of phone calls between the murder cell and Riyadh).  These cards though are devaluing as the news cycle shifts to the US mid-terms.

Time will tell, but it is this nexus of uncertain dynamics to which Bruce Reidel refers, when he talks of ‘instability’ in Saudi Arabia.  The question posed here, though, is how might these events affect Netanyahu’s and MbS’ ‘war’ on Iran?

May 2018 now seems a distant era.  Trump is still the same ‘Trump’, but Putin is not the same Putin. The Russian Defence Establishment has weighed in with their President to express their displeasure at Israeli air strikes on Syria – purportedly targeting Iranian forces in Syria.  The Russian Defence Ministry too, has enveloped Syria in a belt of missiles and electronic disabling systems across the Syrian airspace. Politically, the situation has changed too: Germany and France have joined the Astana Process for Syria. Europe wants Syrian refugees to return home, and that translates into Europe demanding stability in Syria. Some Gulf States too, have tentatively begun normalising with the Syrian state.

The Americans are still in Syria; but a newly invigorated Erdogan (after the release of the US pastor, and with all the Khashoggi cards, produced by Turkish intelligence, in his pocket), intends to crush the Kurdish project in north and eastern Syria, espoused by Israel and the US. MbS, who was funding this project, on behalf of US and Israel, will cease his involvement (as a part of the demands made by Erdogan over the Khashoggi murder). Washington too wants the Yemen war, which was intended to serve as Iran’s ‘quagmire’, to end forthwith.  And Washington wants the attrition of Qatar to stop, too.

These represent major unravelings of the Netanyahu project for the Middle East, but most significant are two further setbacks:

First, the loss of Netanyahu’s and MbS’ stovepipe to Trump, via Jared Kushner, by-passing all America’s own system of ‘checks and balances’.  The Kushner ‘stovepipe’ neither forewarned Washington of coming ‘mistakes’, nor was Kushner able to prevent them. Both Congress and the Intelligences Services of the US and UK are already elbowing into these affairs.  They are not MbS fans.  It is no secret that Prince Mohamed bin Naif was their man (he is still under ‘palace arrest’).

Trump will still hope to continue his ‘Iran project’ and his Deal of the Century between Israel and the Palestinians (led nominally by Saudi Arabia herding together the Sunni world, behind it).  Trump does not seek war with Iran, but rather is convinced of a popular uprising in Iran that will topple the state.

And the second setback is that Prince Ahmad’s clear objective must be other than this – instability in, or conflict with, Iran. His is to restore the family’s standing, and to recoup something of its leadership credentials in the Sunni world, which has been shredded by the war in Yemen – and is now under direct neo-Ottoman challenge from Turkey.  The al-Saud family, one may surmise, will have no appetite to replace one disastrous and costly war (Yemen), with another – an even greater conflict, with its large and powerful neighbor, Iran.  It makes no sense now.  Perhaps this is why we see signs of Israel rushing to hurry Arab state normalisation – even absent any amelioration for the Palestinians.

Nehum Barnea presciently noted in his May article in Yediot Ahoronot:

“Trump could have declared a US withdrawal [from the JCPOA], and made do with that. But under the influence of Netanyahu and of his new team, he chose to go one step further. The economic sanctions on Iran will be much tighter, beyond what they were, before the nuclear agreement was signed. “Hit them in their pockets”, Netanyahu advised Trump: “if you hit them in their pockets, they will choke; and when they choke, they will throw out the ayatollahs””.

This was another bit of ‘stovepiped’ advice passed directly to the US President. 

His officials might have warned him that it was fantasy.  There is no example of sanctions alone having toppled a state; and whilst the US can use its claim of judicial hegemony as an enforcement mechanism, the US has effectively isolated itself in sanctioning Iran: Europe wants no further insecurity. It wants no more refugees heading to Europe. Was it Trump’s tough stance that brought Kim to the table?  Or, perhaps contrarily, might Kim have seen a meeting with Trump simply as the price that he had to pay in order to advance Korean re-unification?  Was Trump warned that Iran would suffer economic pain, but that it would nonetheless persevere, in spite of sanctions? No – well, that’s the problem inherent in listening principally to ‘stovepipes’.

As Yemeni army makes progress in Hodeidah, Pressure grows on Saudi Arabia to end the war

November 4, 2018

Yemen’s army reached the eastern city of Saleh in Hodeidah province after clashes with the Houthi militia, Saudi state-news agency SPA reported.

A senior military official said the Houthis continued to suffer major defeats in clashes with the Arab coalition-backed army forces. (File/AFP)

The developments are part of a military operation launched to liberate the strategic Hodeidah port from the militia.

A senior military official said the Houthis continued to suffer major defeats in clashes with the Arab coalition-backed army forces.

Arab News




Yemen troops make gains as air raids pound Houthi-held Hodeidah

Al Jazeera

Saudi-backed Yemeni forces claim to have captured two areas on the outskirts of the port city of Hodeidah.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have fled their homes as fighting intensifies near Hodeidah city [Najeeb Almahboobi/EPA]
Tens of thousands of Yemenis have fled their homes as fighting intensifies near Hodeidah city [Najeeb Almahboobi/EPA]

The Saudi-UAE military alliance at war with Yemen‘s Houthi rebels says it has advanced towards the western city of Hodeidah, hours after residents reported a barrage of air raids targeting the strategic port city.

Residents in Hodeidah told Al Jazeera on Saturday that the United States-backed alliance launched more than 25 air raids, targeting rebel-held locations on the city’s edges.

Yemeni journalist Manal Qaed said the sound of fighter jets dropping bombs pierced through the sky late into the afternoon, with civilians fearing to venture out of their homes.

The Houthi-affiliated Al-Masirah news outlet said more than 60 raids targeted Kilo-16 and its surrounding areas, wounding four civilians.

Kilo-16 is the main highway linking Hodeidah city with the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.

Aid agencies have long warned that fighting in Hodeidah risks escalating the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where about half the population – some 14 million people – could soon be on the verge of famine.

“This is not the first time the city has been attacked and sadly residents have grown accustomed to the sounds of air strikes and shelling,” Qaed said.

“Throughout the day, we’ve heard the sound of jets in the sky, intense shelling and air strikes,” she added. “As for me, I will only leave once clashes flare in the city.”

Meanwhile, the dpa news agency reported that Yemeni forces, backed by the Saudi-UAE alliance, gained territory on the eastern and southern outskirts of Hodeidah.

A military source told dpa on condition of anonymity: “The forces will not stop until they take control of the strategic Hodeidah port.”

On Tuesday, the alliance sent more than 10,000 troops to Hodeidah in a new offensive aimed at securing the so-called “liberated areas”.

So far, the Yemeni forces and the alliance had held Kilo 7 and Kilo 10, areas which sit less than five kilometres from the city’s busy fish market.

Violence must stop everywhere with an immediate halt around critical infrastructure and densely populated areas


‘Losing Hodeidah will be a big blow’

Adam Baron, a Yemen analyst and visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, called the port city a “key prize”, adding it would be a “big blow” if the Houthislose control of the installation just weeks before peace talks demanded by the United Nations and the US are to be held.

“Hodeidah is arguably Yemen’s most important port and is one of the Houthis’ main sources of revenue,” Baron said.

“In any conflict [control of a port is] a key prize. It would be a big blow [if the Houthis lost the port to the alliance], but not a killer blow,” he added.

Analysts expect the rebels to use Hodeidah as a bargaining chip when they enter into UN-brokered talks scheduled in Sweden later this month.

The UN has repeatedly warned a military campaign on Hodeidah would have devastating consequences for the country’s residents.

Addressing reporters at the world body’s headquarters in New York on Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the warring parties must seize on this “opportunity for peace”.


Yemen: Amal Hussain, whose image drew attention to famine, dies

“To avert imminent catastrophe, several steps are required. First, violence must stop everywhere with an immediate halt around critical infrastructure and densely populated areas,” he said.

“We must do all we can now to end human suffering and avoid the worst humanitarian crisis in the world from getting even worse,” he added.

According to the Yemen Data Project, the Saudi-UAE alliance carried out at least 335 air raids on Hodeidah between June 1 and September 30, with civilians frequently bearing the brunt.

At least 15 people were killed in September when raids hit a road linking Hodeidah with Sanaa.

The Saudi-UAE military alliance acknowledged mistakes in its air operations, but has mostly defended its record.

It has denied deliberately targeting civilians, but Riyadh’s narrative over its actions in Yemen has faced mounting criticism following the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist.

The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, began with the 2014 takeover of by the Houthi rebels, who toppled the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Concerned by the rise of the Houthis, believed to be backed by Iran, the Saudi-UAE military-led coalition launched an intervention in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstalling Hadi’s government.

Earlier this week, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), an independent watchdog, said around 56,000 Yemenis had been killed in the violence. The UN says the conflict has killed at least 10,000 people, but has not updated its death toll in years.

What can a UN investigation achieve in Yemen?

Includes video:

What can a UN investigation achieve in Yemen?


U.S. Pushing Saudi Arabia to End Yemen War — “Peace could be Khashoggi’s legacy”

November 2, 2018

Saudi weakness over Khashoggi killing gives an opportunity for further reform

The United States is working to capitalize on what it regards as new leverage with Saudi Arabia to end the brutal civil war in Yemen and ease a regional standoff with Qatar, according to multiple US and diplomatic officials.

Seeing an opening created by the kingdom’s new pariah status after the killing of a dissident journalist, US officials say the time is ripe to move on longstanding goals, including forcing an end to the Saudi-led bombing campaign that has prompted a humanitarian crisis in neighboring Yemen.
The officials acknowledged that neither the Yemen war nor the dispute with Qatar can be solved quickly. But the administration hopes to make progress on both fronts by the end of the year, they said, and have recently stepped up public calls on Saudi Arabia to alleviate the disputes.

Calls for Yemen ceasefire


Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both this week called on participants in the Yemen civil war to agree to a ceasefire “in the next 30 days,” a demand that comes amid fresh criticism of US support for the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict.

In this photo from April 26, 2018, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens to a question on the Department of Defense budget posture during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

In this photo from April 26, 2018, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens to a question on the Department of Defense budget posture during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
The UN’s envoy for the conflict Martin Griffith told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview Thursday he believed the international furor over Khashoggi’s brutal killing played a part in prompting the surprise American call for a ceasefire.
“Thirty days from now we want to see everybody around a peace table based on a ceasefire, based on a pullback from the border and then based on ceasing dropping of bombs,” Mattis said at an event at the US Institute of Peace in Washington on Tuesday.
His call was later echoed by Pompeo, who issued a statement saying, “the United States calls on all parties to support UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen.”
Mattis and Pompeo both insisted that the US-backed Saudi-led coalition and the Iranian-aligned Houthis stop their respective aerial and missile bombardments.
The three-year conflict between Saudi-led coalition and their Iranian-backed enemies has devastated Yemen and killed at least 10,000 people. United Nations experts say that the coalition’s bombing of civilians are potential war crimes and that its partial blockade of the country has put 13 million men, women and children in danger of starvation, in what could become the worst famine in 100 years.
Griffith said the most pressing factor justifying the US call for a cease-fire was the threat of starvation: “The threat of famine is a very real threat and risks doubling the numbers of people in Yemen who are at risk of dying of hunger or famine. That’s the urgent factor here.”
Griffith said he believed the US administration is taking this issue seriously, adding: “Secretary Mattis and Secretary Pompeo are on this day and night” but acknowledged “the challenge now is to turn this call into action.”
Outrage over the situation has created increasing pressure on the US to pull its support for the coalition, which it provides in the form of military sales, training and refueling of coalition jets.
Saudi Arabia’s belated admission that Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and US resident, was murdered by a team with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has left the Trump administration — including the President himself — feeling stung by Saudi Arabia.
After initial strong denials, the kingdom has produced multiple explanations. Even after admitting that Khashoggi was murdered by men close to bin Salamn, the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said blaming Saudis for the US resident’s death is “hysterical.”
Image result for Adel al-Jubeir, photos
Adel al-Jubeir
Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama Dialogue in Bahrain Saturday, al-Jubeir said, “This issue has become fairly hysterical. People have assigned blame on Saudi Arabia with such certainty before the investigation is complete. We have made it very clear that we are going to have a full and very transparent investigation, the results of which will be released.”
al-Jubeir met with Mattis on Sunday in Bahrain. The defense secretary told reporters traveling with him on his plane to Prague that he had discussed Khashoggi’s death with the Saudi official. “We discussed it,”
.Mattis said, “you know the same thing we talked about, the need for transparency, full and complete investigation, um, full, full agreement from FM Jubeir, no reservations at all, I said we need to know what happened.”
Trump and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is the President’s son-in-law, placed a heavy reliance on the powerful crown prince for an overall strategy in the region, despite warnings that the young royal was untested and volatile.
While American officials previously expressed private displeasure at Mohammed’s intervention in the Yemen war and the Saudi-ordered kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, they mostly aired their grievances in private while maintaining in public that the alliance with Saudi Arabia was necessary to counter Iran’s influence.
Mohammed bin Salman  (Reuters)

Trump is privately fuming


But Khashoggi’s murder, and the ensuing coverup, have made it more difficult to keep those grievances private.
Trump has privately fumed at the Saudis for putting him in the situation of having to defend his decision to fastidiously cultivate a close relationship with Mohammed and his father, King Salman. He and his advisers are in agreement that forcing some kind of resolution on Yemen is a good way to make the best of a bad situation.
The Saudi stand-off with Qatar, which has fractured a security alliance importance to the US, has been another thorn in the Trump administration’s side.
Asked Wednesday whether he felt betrayed by the Saudis, Trump suggested it was the kingdom’s leaders that betrayed themselves.
“I just hope that it all works out. We have a lot of facts, we have a lot of things that we’ve been looking at,” he said. “They haven’t betrayed me. I mean, maybe they betrayed themselves. We’ll have to see how it all turns out.”
Trump has come to the belief in recent days that the American public is starting to catch on to the Yemen catastrophe, including through powerful images of starving children in the New York Times.
The Trump administration has been criticized by activists and some members of Congress for its support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen and for the administration’s recent finding that the coalition was doing enough to avoid civilian casualties.
The US military provides the Saudi collation with training meant to help minimize civilian casualties, as well as aerial refueling of coalition warplanes.
Mattis said the “goal right now is to achieve a level of capability by those forces fighting against the Houthis, that they are not killing innocent people.”
“We refuel probably less than … I think 20% of their aircraft. They have their own refuelers, by the way,” Mattis said.

Congressional pressure


A congressional source told CNN the Khashoggi murder has “put a face” on the broader problem related to the US-Saudi relationship and renewed momentum on Capitol Hill to push for legislation that would end US involvement in the war in Yemen.
Previous resolutions aimed at ending US involvement in the war in Yemen have failed to gain approval but various pieces of legislation proposed in recent months have received increasing support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, wrote in a recent op-ed that he plans to bring his resolution to end US involvement in the “unauthorized war” in Yemen back to the floor next month.
“Because of the privileged resolution that will come to a vote sooner or later and that is certainly something that’s weighed on the administration,” a senior congressional aide told CNN. “I am sure Mattis and Pompeo are well aware of that.”
Democratic Rep. Ro Khonna also cited Pompeo’s statement in a press release touting his own bipartisan proposal in the House intended to align with the resolution Sanders is pushing in the Senate.
“It’s about time. After more than three years of war, thousands dead, millions on the brink of starvation, and growing pressure from Congress, the Trump Administration is finally calling for an end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen,” Khonna said in a statement. “We have tremendous leverage over the Saudi-led coalition and should demand this Administration do all in their power to bring both sides to the peace table and end the war.”
The congressional source also told CNN that efforts to curtail US involvement in Yemen and pressure to respond to Khashoggi’s murder are related in that they both provide evidence of the Saudi government’s and in particular the crown prince’s “recklessness.”

See also:


Jamal Khashoggi death: Erdoğan to address Turkish parliament – live

October 23, 2018

Image result for erdogan, photos

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Live Feed at:


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Khashoggi case has put Saudi Prince right where Erdoğan wants him

In Khashoggi’s death, a battle over regional power looms — “There’s a big strategic game here, and MBS is in a fragile position.”

October 23, 2018

The slow-speed admission by Saudi Arabia that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in Istanbul has been more than a begrudging journey toward justice.

Image result for erdogan, photos

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

It has also become the latest front in a battle for regional power between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, two figures who have sought to stamp their vision on their respective countries as well as the wider region, even as they redefine their relationship with the U.S. and Europe.

Los Angeles Times

In Khashoggi, Erdogan has found a golden opportunity to strike at the crown prince.

“There’s a big strategic game here, and MBS is in a fragile position,” said Soner Cagaptay, author of “The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey” in a phone interview Monday.

The longstanding competition between the two Sunni Muslim Middle East powers flared in 2013 when Saudi Arabia backed a military-led coup in Egypt that toppled elected President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Sunni transnational Muslim Brotherhood movement.

More than five years later, Erdogan, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, still refuses to recognize the government of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Sisi.

“This alliance targets Erdogan because not only has he not recognized the Egyptian government, but has given safe haven to a large number of Muslim Brotherhood opposition types, which the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates see as serious internal threats,” Cagaptay said.

The rift has intensified since Bin Salman’s ascent to power in 2015.

Reacting to a Riyadh-led blockade of Qatar, Erdogan dispatched Turkish troops to protect the tiny Gulf nation from an invasion by its neighbors. Ankara is now setting up a military base in the country, and earlier this month signed a military cooperation pact with Kuwait, another neighbor of Saudi Arabia that has tussled with Bin Salman over oil rights.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s anti-Iran focus — an obsession shared by Saudi leaders about their rival Shiite Muslim neighbor — and his push for Israeli-Palestinian peace have placed Bin Salman at the heart of the administration’s Middle East policy.

The U.S. has given Bin Salman logistic and weapons support to pursue a war in Yemen against Iran-backed Houthi rebels. And presidential advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump’s point man in the region, has tasked Bin Salman with lobbying his Arab allies to accept an Israeli-Palestinian deal that many believe would be unacceptable to the Palestinians.

That has served to impair Erdogan’s position as the region’s top figure and leading champion for Sunni Muslims.

Erdogan himself cut ties with Israel for six years after an Israeli raid on a flotilla to the blockaded Gaza Strip killed 10 Turkish activists in 2010. A year later he threw his full support behind Syrian opposition groups, allowing them to use Turkish border towns as staging areas for attack on Syrian government troops. Under Erdogan’s rule, many in the region have viewed Turkey as a model for political Islam, even dubbing him “The Lion of the Sunnis” in Lebanon and elsewhere.

Since the crown prince is now seen as the weakest link among Sunni countries against the Muslim Brotherhood, Cagaptay said, Erdogan’s “goal is to get a consensus from MBS’ father that would see him at least sidelined or neutralized.”

In pursuit of that aim, Erdogan’s operatives seized control of the narrative almost from the first day of Khashoggi’s mysterious disappearance and have refused to let go.

Although there were few official statements, an advisor to Erdogan made clear early on that Khashoggi had never left the Saudi consulate after entering Oct. 2.

Later, advisor Yasin Aktay revealed that Khashoggi, who had gone there to handle routine paperwork, had been killed inside — long before the Saudis admitted to it.

Erdogan himself was uncharacteristically tight-lipped, saying little more than that he was personally following the issue and “hoping for a positive outcome.” Bin Salman, meanwhile, in an interview with Bloomberg, said Khashoggi had left the consulate.

At that point, the media focus might have faded were it not for a further series of leaks by unnamed Turkish officials that rebutted Saudi and American efforts to downplay the issue.

It helped that the details had all the makings of an old-fashioned spy thriller: A 15-man Saudi hit squad; a gory death followed by dismemberment with a bone saw; an audio recording of the murder obtained by unknown means by Turkish intelligence, reported to exist but yet to be released.

Eventually, the Saudis acknowledged the journalist’s death, but they have offered contradictory explanations, insisting it was a “rogue operation” and then an interrogation that went too far. They have yet to disclose what happened to the body of the 59-year-old Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post.

Monday brought a new round of leaks, with CNN obtaining surveillance footage depicting one of the 15 Saudis wearing Khashoggi’s clothes, along with a fake beard and glasses, and walking out of the consulate, presumably to have set up an early cover story.

“Our assessment has not changed since Oct. 6,” a Turkish official told CNN. “This was a premeditated murder and the body was moved out of the consulate.”

The saga could reach a denouement on Tuesday, the day Erdogan promised in a speech over the weekend that all would be revealed “in its naked truth.”

The Khashoggi crisis has also come at an opportune time for a leader beset with problems at home and abroad.

Last month, the lira plunged to half its value to the dollar, and though it has slightly recovered the Turkish economy remains vulnerable. Erdogan’s appointment of his son-in-law Berat Albayrak as finance minister, a 40-year old businessman with no experience in the job, has done little to reassure foreign investors.

Erdogan also remains at loggerheads with the West over his ongoing purge of thousands of political opponents.

Turkey has taken in more than 3 million Syrian refugees, according to the U.N. It is eager to send them home, even as it works to sabotage plans for a U.S.-backed Kurdish enclave in eastern Syria for which Saudi Arabia recently pledged $100 million. (Ankara views Syrian Kurds as a proxy for Kurdish separatists at home.)

But there are limits to what Erdogan can do on his own, said Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

“Erdogan wants to force broader bigger political changes to Saudi foreign policy, which largely emanate from MBS’ office,” said Stein in a phone interview Monday. “He’s rightly seen that the only one that can bring pressure on Bin Salman is the U.S. The question is if team Trump will sacrifice relations, oil and its work on Iran for a murdered journalist.”

In Shift on Khashoggi Killing, Trump Edges Closer to Acknowledging a Saudi Role

October 19, 2018

President Trump said on Thursday that he believes the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, and he expressed confidence in intelligence reports from multiple sources that strongly suggest a high-level Saudi role in Mr. Khashoggi’s assassination.

Mr. Trump stopped short of saying the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death. But he acknowledged that the allegations that the prince ordered the killing raised hard questions about the American alliance with Saudi Arabia and had ignited one of the most serious foreign policy crises of his presidency.

“This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,” Mr. Trump said in a brief interview with The New York Times in the Oval Office. “It’s not a positive. Not a positive.”

The shift in the president’s tone came shortly after a briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and it signaled that after trying to defend the Saudi rulers, Mr. Trump was coming to terms with the far-reaching implications of the Khashoggi case and the likelihood that his closest ally in the Arab world was guilty of the grisly killing of a Saudi-born columnist for The Washington Post.

By  Maggie HabermanMark LandlerMichael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt
The New York Times

Image result for donald trump, oval office, photos, October 2018

“Unless the miracle of all miracles happens, I would acknowledge that he’s dead,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s based on everything — intelligence coming from every side.” Later, before leaving on a trip to Montana, he was asked what the consequences would be if Saudi Arabia’s culpability was established.

“Well, it’ll have to be very severe,” he said. “I mean, it’s bad, bad stuff.”

But it is not at all clear what Mr. Trump has in mind, given the central role that Saudi Arabia plays in the president’s strategy for the Middle East and the web of ties that have developed between the prince and the White House, particularly with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

In conversations with allies, the president has begun to distance himself from Prince Mohammed, 33, saying he barely knows him. And he has played down the relationship that Mr. Kushner has cultivated with the Saudi heir.

Mr. Trump also signed off on a decision by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to pull out of an investor conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, convened by Prince Mohammed — the highest-level American cancellation from a conference meant to showcase the Saudi kingdom’s progressive future.

Mr. Mnuchin announced his withdrawal after an Oval Office meeting that included Mr. Pompeo, who had just returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where he pressed officials about the fate of Mr. Khashoggi, who vanished after walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Turkish officials said he was brutally killed and his body dismembered by a team of operatives sent from Saudi Arabia. In phone calls with Mr. Trump, Mr. Pompeo and other top American officials, Prince Mohammed and other Saudi leaders have denied any involvement.

Mr. Pompeo said on Thursday that the United States would give the Saudis a few more days to conduct their investigation. He told reporters at the White House that the Saudi report would be “transparent for everyone to see, to ask questions about and to acquire.”

Mr. Trump said in the interview it was still “a little bit early” in the process to draw definitive conclusions about who ordered the killing. But he expressed no doubt that the truth would come out soon. “We’re working with the intelligence from numerous countries,” he said.

“This is the best intelligence we could have,” Mr. Trump added.

Intelligence reports have drawn direct links between the Saudi operatives who traveled to Istanbul and the Saudi royal court. Four of the operatives, whose images were caught on surveillance video, served as guards for Prince Mohammed in April during his visit to the United States.

American intelligences agencies, however, are divided on the degree of responsibility that can be pinned on the prince — which is complicating an appraisal that they are compiling to present to the White House, according to a former senior administration official.

The Central Intelligence Agency, whose analysts draw on an array of hard facts and subjective judgments, are increasingly convinced that Prince Mohammed is culpable in Mr. Khashoggi’s death.

But other agencies have stopped short of that conclusion. The National Security Agency, for example, collected communications intercepts of Saudi officials discussing a plan to lure Mr. Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from his home in Virginia and then detain him, according to a former senior American official. But the intercepts do not reveal whether Prince Mohammed directly ordered the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

During his conversation with The Times, Mr. Trump was uncharacteristically guarded. He declined repeated requests to discuss the chain of events that led to Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance or the crown prince’s role.

In part, Mr. Trump acknowledged, that caution reflected his recognition that the Khashoggi case now posed a bigger challenge to him than other issues “because it’s taken on a bigger life than it would normally take on.”

Still, Mr. Trump emphasized the value of the alliance with Saudi Arabia to American military contractors and other firms. “They’ve been a very good ally, and they’ve bought massive amounts of various things and investments in this country, which I appreciate,” he said.

Those business ties have been sorely tested by the furor over Mr. Khashoggi. Before Mr. Mnuchin withdrew from the conference, known as the Future Investment Initiative, a stream of Wall Street and high-tech executives had canceled, citing the uncertainties over Mr. Khashoggi.

Mr. Mnuchin was planning to speak at the conference during a six-country, weeklong swing through the Middle East, focused on combating terrorism financing. Several prominent chief executives canceled plans to attend, along with ministers from Britain, France and the Netherlands.

The Treasury secretary, who had been fielding calls from executives in recent days about the wisdom of going, had urged people to focus on the facts and evidence. However, the pressure to cancel — which included calls from Republican lawmakers — became too much.

With so many executives and foreign officials scrapping plans to go to Riyadh, Mr. Mnuchin’s attendance emerged as a litmus test for the United States’ commitment to human rights. After Mr. Mnuchin’s decision, Goldman Sachs announced that Dina H. Powell, a senior executive who was previously a deputy national security adviser in the White House, would also not attend.

While Mr. Trump’s views appeared to be hardening, Mr. Kushner was still lobbying his father-in-law to stand by Prince Mohammed, arguing the scandal would eventually pass, according to two people who have had recent discussions with White House officials.

Even Mr. Pompeo reminded reporters of the United States’ long “strategic” relationship with the Saudis, dating back to 1932, and said the kingdom remained an “important counterterrorism partner.”

American intelligence officials have not yet had access to the audiotapes that Turkish officials say they have of Mr. Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture and death. That means they must rely on other information they have and what the Turks are telling them — which American officials say is credible.

The director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, will have to reconcile the differences between the C.I.A. and National Security Agency assessments. Mr. Coats has privately expressed concerns about presenting an appraisal that boxes in Mr. Trump or poses a challenge to the president’s intention to maintain a close relationship with the kingdom.

Nor does Mr. Coats want to give Mr. Trump an assessment noting dissenting views from intelligence agencies, as would be standard in any appraisal, especially one with such political explosiveness.

Even so, the former administration official said, an intelligence assessment that reflects the spy services’ best overall judgment but has no smoking gun linking Prince Mohammed to the killing could be one the White House could “choose to dismiss,” based on the lack of incriminating evidence — something he referred to as the “Kavanaugh defense.”

The Saudis will need to wrap up their investigation in the next few days, the former official said. The longer the delay, he added, the more likely Turkish officials will release more damning information, making it even more difficult for Saudi officials to present an explanation that will weather international scrutiny.


Alan Rappeport and Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.


A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Citing Reports, Trump Concedes Writer Is Dead.

Missing journalist has made Trump’s Saudi bet much riskier

October 18, 2018

US president has leaned heavily on kingdom for his Middle East policy, but ties now face bipartisan scrutiny over Jamal Khashoggi affair

The Associated Press
In this photo from May 20, 2017, US President Donald Trump holds a sword and dances with traditional dancers during a welcome ceremony at Murabba Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

In this photo from May 20, 2017, US President Donald Trump holds a sword and dances with traditional dancers during a welcome ceremony at Murabba Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump put a big and risky bet on Saudi Arabia and its 33-year-old crown prince. It’s now become much riskier.

From the early days of his presidency, Trump and his foreign policy team embraced the kingdom and Mohammed bin Salman as the anchors of their entire Middle East strategy. From Iran and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the administration gambled that Saudi Arabia, effectively run by the prince, could credibly lead, and willingly pay for, a “Pax Arabica” in a part of the world from which Trump is keen to disengage.

For nearly two years, through an ongoing crisis with Qatar and international outrage over civilian casualties in the Saudi-led campaign against Yemeni rebels, the prince has managed to keep Washington’s confidence. But now, the tide is turning amid growing outrage over the disappearance and likely death of a US-based journalist inside a Saudi Consulate in Turkey, and that confidence appears to be waning. The Trump administration’s grand strategy may be upended with far-reaching ramifications that extend well outside the region.

Even if an investigation into what happened to Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul exonerates the prince and the top Saudi leadership, the administration’s deep reliance on him will be severely tested not least because of broad bipartisan revulsion in Congress to as-yet unconfirmed accounts of Khashoggi’s fate. Already, prominent lawmakers from both parties are questioning his fitness to lead the country and suggesting it might be time to re-think US-Saudi relations and sharply curb arms sales.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington, on March 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) and other influential politicians warned of dire consequences on Tuesday, saying the prince, often known as MBS for short, should be removed from his post.

“This guy is a wrecking ball, he had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused,” Graham said on “Fox and Friends.” “Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening, there are a lot of good people you could choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself.”

Trump foe Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) said the Khashoggi case “should trigger a fundamental review of the nature of the United States’ alliance with the Saudis.”

“As the new crown prince engages in increasingly reckless behavior, more and more of us are wondering whether our ally’s actions are in our own best interests,” he wrote in The Washington Post.

And Trump ally Senator Marco Rubio (Republican-Florida) called the situation a “catastrophe” for the Saudis that will “alter the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future.”

“This is a fear we’ve had for a long time is that the crown prince is a young and aggressive guy that would overestimate how much room he had to do things, would get over aggressive and overestimate his own capabilities and create a problem such as this,” he said. He added that the situation was one that “would really blow apart our Middle Eastern strategy.”

In this photo from February 1, 2015, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks at a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

The impact of a US-Saudi rift, however remote the possibility, could send shockwaves around the world, destabilizing oil markets and the global investment climate, not to mention dealing a blow to the Trump administration’s own plans in the Middle East.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has made Saudi Arabia a centerpiece of his yet to be revealed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which is expected to call for massive Saudi and Gulf Arab contributions to fund reconstruction and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

Saudi support will also be key to the political elements of the plan that Israel insists put its security on par with Palestinian statehood. That means that Israel will likely seek assurances that any deal with the Palestinians be followed by a broader agreement that normalizes its relations with the rest of the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia.

In Syria, the administration relied almost entirely on Saudi Arabia, along with the closely allied United Arab Emirates, to make up for steep cuts in US stabilization assistance to areas liberated from Islamic militants. Next door in Iraq, the current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, have leaned heavily on the Saudis to make large financial pledges for reconstruction of war-shattered communities.

But it is the administration’s policy of isolating Iran that may suffer the most from Saudi-US estrangement.

US President Donald Trump, left and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud gesture during a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Trump is counting on the Saudis to shore up and complement its Iran policy on several fronts.

In Yemen, where the US-backed Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebel insurgency, the effort to blunt Tehran’s increasing assertiveness would be hurt by any reduction in American help.

In Syria, where Saudi stabilization funds are being used in part to prevent Iranian proxies from encroaching on communities previously held by the Islamic State group, a reduction in Saudi cooperation would allow Iran a freer hand. The same holds true in Iraq, where Saudi investment is seen as critical to prevent Iran from gaining more of a foothold than it has in the Shia majority state.

More importantly, the administration has been counting on Saudi Arabia to step in to prevent oil prices from skyrocketing once it re-imposes energy-related sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew. Those sanctions require countries to halt Iranian oil imports unless they receive a waiver or face penalties. Frosty relations with Washington may tempt Riyadh to cut back on any increase in oil supply to make up for the loss of Iranian crude.

Of course, Trump’s bet could still pay off in the event the Khashoggi investigation is found to be credible and those responsible for his fate are held accountable, as Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo have all demanded. But with anti-Saudi sentiment running high in the corridors of power, Trump may find that going all in on the prince was a loser.


Arabian Game Of Thrones Heats Up

October 17, 2018

The reported torture, murder, and dismemberment of Washington-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate-general in Istanbul reminded the world that an intense power play is now taking place within the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula and between them.

Image result for saudi crown prince, photos

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

In November 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the arrest and detention at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton Hotel of over 200 members of the Saudi royal family, including eleven rival princes, as well as government ministers and influential businessmen. That came after an October 2017 meeting in Riyadh between MBS and Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, conclave that lasted well into the early morning hours. At the meeting, Kushner is said to have turned over to MBS a list of the names of the Crown Prince’s opponents: leading figures of the Saudi royal house, government, and major businesses.

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The list may have also contained the name “Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi.”

The list of Saudi names was, reportedly, compiled by Kushner from top secret special code word documents he had specifically requested from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency. The documents were specifically requested by Kushner, not because he was an expert in communications intercepts, but because he likely had a control officer who told him what files to obtain. The Kushner family have longstanding ties to the Israeli Likud Party, as well as the Mossad intelligence service. The Mossad enjoys a close working relationship with the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, which is now firmly committed to MBS after a previous purge of its upper ranks following MBS’s rise to the heir apparent position in the House of Saud.

Those on the list handed over to MBS by Kushner were all subjects of NSA and CIA communications intercepts of phone calls, video conferences, and emails.Kushner is said to have had a phone conversation with MBS a day before Khashoggi was murdered.

Reports from U.S. intelligence sources report that the NSA had intercepted high-level communications between the Saudi government in Riyadh and the Saudi consulate-general in Istanbul indicating thatthere was a plot afoot to either kidnap Khashoggi and fly him back to Riyadh or murder him on the spot.Kidnapping and detention is definitely part of MBS’s playbook as seen with his kidnapping and detention in Riyadh on November 3, 2017 of arriving Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. No sooner had Hariri’s plane touched down in Riyadh, was his cell phone confiscated by the Saudis and he was detained. Hariri was forced to resign in a forced statement read by him on a Saudi television network. MBS was hoping to replace Hariri with his older estranged brother, Bahaa Hariri, someone that MBS had in his pocket.

MBS had bragged to close advisers that he also had Jared Kushner “in his pocket.” Lebanese President Michel Aoun demanded Hariri’s immediate release by the Saudi regime and his return to Beirut. Just as Riyadh denied it had murdered Khashoggi, it refused to admit that it was holding Hariri against his will. MBS ordered Hariri flown to Abu Dhabi to meet with MBS’s on-and-off-again ally, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the heir apparent to the presidency of the United Arab EmiratesAt the age of 57, MBZ is not as brash as the young and impetuous MBS. This has been witnessed by MBZ’s willingness to work with Jordanian King Abdullah II to seek an accommodation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. MBS is reportedly furious with MBZ and Abdullah, the latter a member of the Hashemite family, who were ejected from their rule over Mecca and Medina by the British and Sauds, following World War I. Ever since the Hashemites’ loss of the Hejaz region of Arabia to the radical Wahhabist Sauds, there has been bad blood between Riyadh and Amman.

MBS is also upset over MBZ’s support for rival claimants to power in South Yemen. MBS is supporting the rump Yemeni government, much of it in exile in Saudi Arabia, against the Iranian-supported Houthi government ruling from Sana’a in north Yemen in a bloody and genocidal war being orchestrated by Riyadh, with the support of the Trump adminstration and the Israeli regime.

The UAE has been supporting the Southern Transition Council (STC), which strives for South Yemen’s reversion to an independent state, a status it enjoyed before a forced merger with north Yemen in 1990. Caught in the middle are forces loyal to Sheikh Abdullah bin Issa al Aafrar, the Sultan of the Mahra State, which was disestablished when South Yemen achieved independence in 1967. The Mahra Sultan, who is living in the neighboring Sultanate of Oman, under Sultan Qabus bin Said’s protection, is also in the gun sights of MBS, who does not want any competition for Saudi control of all of Yemen.

Oman is reportedly backing the Al-Mahra and Socotra People’s General Council, which is composed of the Mahra Sultan and Mahri tribal elders. This rival governing authority wants to be free of any control by the Saudi, Emirati, Houthi, and the pro-Saudi Yemen government. Through the offices of Oman’s mission to the United Nations, the General Council has been in direct contact with the UN Security Council. The STC also includes members of the tribes and royal families of other former states of the British colonial era Federation of Arab Emirates of the South and Protectorate of South Arabia. These include the Kathiri State, Sultanate of Lahej, the Qu’aiti State of Hadhramaut, and the Emirates of Dhala and Beihan.

MBS is known to be angling to select the successor to Qabus, who has no children and has been a thorn in Riyadh’s side. Under Qabus, Oman has been friendly to Iran and the Assad government in Syria, as well as Qatar, where the 36-year old Emir, Tamim bin Hamad, has infuriated MBS by maintaining relations with Iran. In 2013, Tamim’s father, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, formally abdicated the throne in favor of his son. However, it is well known that Hamad still pulls the strings in Doha. In 1995, Hamad deposed his father, Khalifa BIN Hamad al Thani, who was undergoing medical treatment in Geneva. In 1972, Khalifa ousted his cousin, Ahmad, while he was on a hunting trip in Iran. Ahmad settled in Dubai, where he married the daughter of the Emir of Dubai. MBS and MBZ are anxious to prop up a rival to the current Qatari emir from the ranks of potential claimants to the throne in Doha, including two rival al-Thani clan members who the Saudis have claimed have rightful claims to the Qatari throne – Abdulla bin Ali Al Thani and Sultan bin Suhaim Al Thani.

MBS, along with all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, have instituted a punishing economic and diplomatic embargo on Qatar.There is some speculation in the Middle East that MBS is quietly backing to succeed Qabus, Taimur bin Assad, the 37-year old son of Qabus’s cousin, Said Assad bin Tariq. As the deputy prime minister for international cooperation, Said Assad bin Tariq was designated as the official heir to the ailing Qabus.

In this Arabian “Game of Thrones,” MBZ may have his own favorites among other claimants to the sultan’s throne in Muscat.These include Said Assad bin Tariq’s half-brothers, Haitham bin Tariq, currently the culture minister, and Shihab bin Tariq, a former commander of the Omani navy. MBZ is reportedly running a network of spies within the Omani royal court to influence the succession to Qabus. There is another, non-Arabian prince, who could also have a great deal of influence in the Omani royal succession. He is the Prince of Wales, Charles, the future King of England, who has been a longtime friend and confidante of Sultan Qabus.

Oman and Qatar have their own agents of influence within the royal families of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. In July, Sheikh Rashid bin Hamad al-Sharqi, the second-in-line for the throne in Fujairah, the UAE emirate that borders Oman, turned up in Qatar to ask for asylum. He said that MBZ’s government was using extortion to eke out transfers of large sums of cash by Emirati royal families to unknown parties around the world, including those in Ukraine, India, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Syria. The UAE, along with the Saudis, are major financial supporters of jihadist elements around the world. Sheikh Rashid has also provided Qatari intelligence with details of discontent among the emirates of the dictatorial policies of MBZ in Abu Dhabi. The other emirs are also critical of the UAE’s involvement in the genocidal civil war in Yemen, one in which troops from Fujairah, Umm al Quwain, Ajman, Sharjah, and Ras al Khaimah, are used for cannon fodder, while those from the wealthier Abu Dhabi and Dubai avoid frontline combat.

Recently, the Saudis have pressured their puppet king in Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to fire his uncle, Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa.Prince Khalifa is the world’s longest-serving prime minister. However, he has apparently irritated MBS with his work to protect the rights of foreign workers, including those from the Philippines and south Asia, in Bahrain and the wider Gulf region.

MBS and Kushner are known to view Iran as the chief threat to peace in the Middle East. MBZ shares in their view of Iran,something that is, apparently, not shared by the emirates of the northern Gulf region, including Fujairah. From their actions, MBS and MBZ are, along with their Israeli and American allies, the major threat to peace in the region. The assassination of a journalist resident in the United States in a third country, Turkey, and the kidnapping and house arrest of a sitting prime minister of another nation is unprecedented behavior in the Middle East. The Saudis are only matched by Israel in their total disregard for international norms of behavior in the Middle Eastern region as they and their cohorts engage in their bloody “Game of Thrones.”

Missing journalist puts spotlight on Saudi prince’s friendship with Kushner

October 13, 2018

US president’s son-in-law has developed close ties with kingdom’s Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused of ordering Jamal Khashoggi’s murder


Jared Kushner, left, is seen at a White House meeting, on October 23, 2017. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Lebanon’s Christian Maronite patriarch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 14, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

Jared Kushner, left, is seen at a White House meeting, on October 23, 2017. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Lebanon’s Christian Maronite patriarch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on November 14, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In March, Saudi Arabia was on the brink of a new age of modernity. At the epicenter of the transformation were Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser.

But allegations this week that bin Salman — or MBS, as he is known — ordered the brazen murder of a dissident Saudi journalist in Istanbul, Turkey, have roiled the prince’s reputation as a modernizer.

So where does that leave Kushner, who cultivated a close friendship with MBS in part to advance Kushner’s efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks? Does Kushner counsel the president to distance the United States from Saudi Arabia? Or does he wait out the storm and return to the bromance when things are quieter?

Despite some favorable media coverage at the time of his last US visit in March, much reporting suggested — even before the disappearance in Istanbul last week of Jamal Khashoggi, a permanent resident of the United States — that MBS’s reforms were more show than substance.

Yes, women could drive, but the activists who helped bring about the change were languishing in jail. Yes, he seemed ready for closer relations with Israel, while also bombing Yemen into submission, with little regard for civilian casualties. Yes, the extended Saudi royal family seemed on board with his changes, but maybe a period of imprisonment and torture in 2017 had something to do with that.

With the Khashoggi crisis in full bloom, the Trump administration is scrambling for a strategy. Trump himself is wary of penalizing a nation that spends big money on US arms.

A demonstrator dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) with blood on his hands protests outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC, on October 8, 2018, demanding justice for missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. (Jim Watson/AFP)

“I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country on — I know they’re talking about different kinds of sanctions,” he said Thursday, referring to moves in Congress to sanction Saudi Arabia, “but they’re spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs, like jobs and others, for this country.”

Saudi Arabia also figures large in Trump administration plans to isolate Iran.

At the center of the US-Saudi relationship is Kushner, whom Trump has tasked with relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The drive for a peace deal is what ostensibly brought Kushner and MBS together, but their relationship has broadened to include arms sales and regional strategy making.

Here are five key moments in the Kushner-MBS bromance.

The first meeting

According to The Washington Post, MBS and Kushner became friendly when the crown prince first visited Trump as president in March 2017. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was next on the agenda but was delayed by a snowstorm, which allowed the two 30-somethings to become acquainted. That set off a long distance relationship, with frequent phone calls, the Post reported.

Open arms and an arms deal

One result of the closeness was a major shift: A president’s inaugural trip has traditionally been to a neighbor, Canada or Mexico. Trump instead first headed to Saudi Arabia, in May 2017, and Kushner was instrumental in setting the agenda — so instrumental that he says he got a rabbi’s permission to join his father-in-law on the Shabbat flight. (Which rabbi? That’s still a mystery.)

The trip went off smoothly — remember that glowing orb Trump and MBS’s dad touched together? And Trump signed a $110 billion arms sale deal with the country.

US President Donald Trump shows a chart highlighting arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office of the White House, March 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

That Lebanon business

Kushner visited with MBS in Saudi Arabia in October 2017, supposedly to discuss advance of the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. A week or so later Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, turned up in Saudi Arabia to resign, citing the overweening influence in his country of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia aligned with Iran.

It was a bizarre moment, and soon Hariri was back in Lebanon having rescinded his resignation. What happened?

Hariri has close business and family relations in Saudi Arabia, and MBS may have coerced his resignation as a means of sowing chaos in Lebanon, which he reportedly hoped would spark a punishing Israeli assault on Hezbollah. No one told the Israelis and they were not game to be Saudi Arabia’s proxy in its longstanding dispute with Iran.

Did Kushner give MBS a green light? They chatted until 4 a.m. during the visit. We may never know what they discussed, but the proximity (and secrecy) of his visit so close to the Lebanon fiasco led to speculation that Kushner winked at MBS’s maneuvering. The crown prince arrested a bunch of his extended family at around the same time. That was the second round of arrests; the first was in June, soon after the Trump visit. Making matters murkier, Trump praised the prince for the arrests in a tweet.

That peace deal

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was summoned to Saudi Arabia the same month as Hariri, November 2017. What was said was not clear, but according to subsequent reports, MBS pressed Abbas to accept Kushner’s terms for a peace deal that would comprise a Palestinian quasi state with its capital in Jerusalem’s suburbs, as opposed to the city itself.

Abbas reportedly declined, and Saudi statements denied that MBS had ever embraced such a proposal.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

One year later …

A year after their snowbound bromance began, MBS was back in the United States for what was to be a turning point in the US-Saudi relationship. He met with Trump, and Kushner helped organize a busy itinerary for the prince, including stops in high-tech centers on the East and West coasts to talk investment. MBS and his modernization proposals received glowing attention from influential columnists.

Marring the visit was the revelation, first reported at the time by The Intercept, that MBS told Persian Gulf buddies that he had Kushner “in his pocket.”

Is that the case? The Khashoggi mystery is not going away, and we may learn more soon.