Turkey’s Yeni Safak, a newspaper that supports President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, published an editorial on Friday by its most energetic columnist, editor-in-chief Ibrahim Karagul, warning that war will erupt across the Middle East if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) remains in power after allegedly ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
“So, Saudi is going to execute five people and be done with it! That’s not going to happen; it’s going to be very difficult to get the prince out of this. A regional war is going to break out if the two crown princes don’t go! If the secret deals are disclosed, it will cause unrest on Arab streets,” Karagul thundered.
That was not the first paragraph of his op-ed. That was the headline.
Karagul was not thrilled by Thursday’s release of the Saudi prosecutor’s preliminary report on the Khashoggi murder, and he was not impressed by the death sentences sought against five suspects. On the contrary, he saw the capital charges as merely Saudi Arabia’s attempt to cover Crown Prince Mohammed’s tracks by liquidating everyone who could connect him to the “murder network” that killed Khashoggi.
In Karagul’s opinion, Turkish investigators have pushed the Saudi monarchy into a tight spot:
The Riyadh administration that initially denied everything is now, bit by bit, confessing and owning up to the crime in every statement it makes. You will see, in their next statement, they are going to own up to a lot more. As the evidence is revealed, they are going to step back and have no other choice but to own up.
Supposedly a fight broke out and that is why they killed him. Supposedly the head of the squad that went there made the decision to kill him and they could not convince him out of it. None of this makes sense. The men came from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul to kill, to dismember, to destroy the body – and they brought all the equipment necessary to do this along with them.
The decision to murder him was made in Riyadh; the instruction to kill was received from the crown prince’s office or from him, and the entire team is composed of the crown prince’s close men, high-level executives. The Intelligence and security are under his control anyway. They would not dare go from Riyadh to Jeddah without the crown prince knowing.
The other crown prince condemned in Karagul’s headline is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates, long ago fingered by the Turkish columnist as the true evil mastermind of the Arab states. Karagul predicted all of Crown Prince Zayed’s dirty laundry would come tumbling out during Turkey’s relentless investigation of the Khashoggi murder, and there will be hell to pay on the Arab street:
This is more than a murder case. This matter concerns the future of this region. It is the matter of how the Arab street will react once it finds out the kind of axis established and the regional war preparations made through the two crown princes. It is related to the kind of unrest that will break out once these two people’s secret agenda with U.S. and Israeli intelligence is revealed.
Unless Crown Prince Mohammed steps down, unless Mohammed bin Zayed, who has been using Saudi Arabia’s power, is isolated, the Arab world, the Arab region is not going to find the chance to escape the regional conflict planned to be started in a couple of years.
The editorial concluded with some confused messaging as Karagul warned his readers about the “big trap” that could plunge the Gulf states into war and simultaneously praised the Turkish government for setting that trap.
Of course, Karagul is not alone in believing Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s execution or suspecting scapegoats will be selected to protect him. Saudi prosecutors have taken pains to exonerate him, but the U.S. sanctions announced on Thursday reach deep into his inner circle, targeting several aides so close to MBS that the New York Times said the rest of the royal family has “come to fear” them.
Middle East Eye, which is not much more fond of the Saudi monarchy than Ibrahim Karagul, predicted on Friday the Saudis will either run out of fall guys to protect MBS or sacrifice so many of them that morale collapses and loyal service to the kingdom is seen as suicidal. The New York Times editorial board was not far behind Karagul in proclaiming the Saudi government an irredeemable mess and slamming the Trump administration for largely accepting the sanitized account of Khashoggi’s death offered by Saudi prosecutors.
AFP quoted analysts with the same idea as Middle East Eye about Saudi government plunging into chaos if too many loyal officials are punished to protect MBS, especially if they are executed.
“It is very risky for the prince to threaten capital punishment to those who appeared to be following orders. It can potentially create rogue elements within the intelligence service,” Bessma Momani of Canada’s University of Waterloo cautioned.
The overall prognosis from AFP’s contributors was that Crown Prince bin Salman will remain in power but will be severely weakened in the aftermath of the Khashoggi crisis, with his father King Salman bin Abdulaziz taking a more active role and delegating more power to other members of the royal family. AFP also anticipated Turkey and the U.S. would gain more leverage over the Saudi government as the price for accepting some version of Riyadh’s story about how Jamal Khashoggi died.