The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the ridiculous, ensuing attempts to cover up the crime have triggered a significant amount of international media attention. For the first time in recent history, the Saudi regime has been criticized in mainstream U.S. media – to the regret of many in Israel.
The Khashoggi case has underscored the Wahhabi regime’s powerful influence in the West. Saudi Arabia’s catastrophic human rights record has never posed an obstacle to its strategic military and economic alignment with Western powers. In addition to its relentless war against the Yemeni population and its aggressive meddling in the region, Saudi Arabia has consistently pursued totalitarian politics domestically. Amnesty International has highlighted, amongst other human rights violations, the government’s systematic discrimination against women and Shiite Muslims, as well as its crackdown on peaceful activists, academics, and journalists, which have featured punishments that include torture and executions.
The fact that the Khashoggi murder has even slightly ruptured Saudi Arabia’s ability to avoid criticism on its rampant human rights violations is surprising. It has also been a cause of concern for many inside Israel. Riyadh and Tel Aviv’s regressive regimes have been increasingly open about their close cooperation against Iran, Lebanon, and the Palestinian people. Indeed, in commenting on Khashoggi’s murder, during a talk at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump stressed Saudi Arabia’s support for Israel, claiming Riyadh has “been helping us a lot with respect to Israel. They’ve been funding a lot of things[.]” For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against negative responses against Saudi Arabia following the murder of Khashoggi, emphasizing Riyadh’s alleged importance to global stability.
The vocal parts of the Israeli lobby, particularly the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which usually exploit every opportunity to present a pro-Israel cast to developments in the Middle East, have remained unusually quiet on the Khashoggi affair. Other pro-Israeli voices expressly attacked the dead journalist, calling him an anti-Semite and terrorist supporter.
Although largely indifferent to the killing, the Israel media has reflected anxiety over how Khashoggi’s murder may effect Israel’s interests in the region, particularly when it comes to Iran. The Times of Israel published a piece on October 23 arguing that Israel “needs a strong Saudi Arabia to help confront Iran, but does not want to be seen as a mouthpiece for a regime that kills journalists.” Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Tel Aviv, wrote in Haaretz that the Khashoggi murder is a disaster for Israel. As Shapiro argued, the event has “undermined the attempt to build an international consensus to pressure Iran.” Israel, Shapiro claims, has “a clear interest in keeping Saudi Arabia in the fold of U.S. allies to maximize the strategic alignment on Iran[.]”
While Saudi Arabia may not (yet) enjoy the privilege of getting away with killing journalists live on camera, as Israel does, it will likely weather this scandal. The United States and the West have, after all, consistently made it clear that military and economic interests trump human rights where the Middle East is concerned.