Former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has put forth an intriguing argument for finding the killers of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi: not doing so will help Iran! Oh, and maybe the war on Yemen is bad, also.
Khashoggi, a self-exiled critic of the current Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. Ankara immediately accused Riyadh of murdering the journalist, with anonymous government officials offering many graphic accounts of his death. After initially denying the accusations, the Saudis admitted Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. The investigation is ongoing.
Writing in the Post on Thursday, Johnson seemed confident he knew all the facts already.
“I don’t have any doubt about what happened: the plot to lure him to the Saudi consulate; the savage attack by heavies from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s own security team; the dismembering of the body,” he said. “Nor do I doubt for a second that this disgusting assassination was ordered at the highest levels of the Saudi regime.”
Interestingly, Johnson’s phrasing about the “highest levels” is identical to that of Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who wrote that the Turks “know that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government,” in an opinion piece the Post published last week.
Though Erdogan did not once mention Bin Salman’s name, it was abundantly clear from the piece that he was advocating a palace coup in Riyadh in which King Salman would pick another successor – someone less hostile to Turkey and Qatar, perhaps.
Boris appears to be of the same mind, but he took a different tack: if the Saudis don’t punish those who ordered Khashoggi’s killing – and end the war in Yemen while they’re at it – this would “boost Iran, and all regional critics of the Saudi regime.”
Iran as the root of all evil in the Middle East is a trope frequently invoked by the Trump administration, the Saudis and Israel, and Boris goes to great lengths to acknowledge that he agrees with it. However, he writes, “we will not put Iran back in its box unless we accept that the Iranians are also highly skillful at exploiting the consequences of the policies of the West and its allies.”
As examples, he lists the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the 2003 US invasion that “virtually handed [Iraq] them on a plate,” and the “West’s limp-wristed and ultimately abortive attempts” at regime change in Syria. In Yemen, Johnson argues, Tehran had “virtually no influence… and no real strategic interest” until the Saudi-led coalition began its “ill-fated campaign” in 2015.
While the Saudis and their allies may be legally right in Yemen, Johnson writes, “the plain fact is that the campaign has not been successful.”
Both the murder of Khashoggi and the war in Yemen are bad for Saudi Arabia and good for Iran, he concludes.
Johnson visited Saudi Arabia in September, for a three-day, all-expenses-paid trip he said was related to a “campaign of improving education for women and girls.” He resigned from Theresa May’s government in July, reportedly due to disagreements over Britain’s exit from the EU. Recent polls show him tied with May for the most popular politician in the UK.