Growing Concerns In Middle East

The alleged brutal killing of a Washington Times correspondent Jamal Khashoggi, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, allegedly inside Riyadh’s   consulate in Istanbul has added fuel to the tension ridden Middle East region. It is threatening the already skyrocketing oil prices to reach newer heights. Though  India  is not  directly concerned with the US-Saudi spat over the alleged killing of the Saudi journalist, and has very cordial  strategic  partnerships  with both   USA and Saudi Arabia;  India  will certainly feel the heat if the US-Saudi relations further deteriorate  as the  Trump administration might impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Though Saudi Arabia has been a close ally of the US in the Middle East ever since diplomatic relations were established in 1933,  the US administration would definitely weigh its options before imposing direct sanctions  on the Islamic kingdom .

The dissident Saudi journalist disappeared on October 2, after he entered the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul and is believed to have been murdered.  After the US and European governments asked the Saudi rulers to take action against those responsible for the disappearance of the  dissident, the Saudi government remained defiant in the face of intense pressure by the International diplomatic and business community .

Leading international corporate giants have already started withdrawing from the international investors’ conference to be held in Riyadh next week. Riyadh has threatened retaliation which has evoked fears in the oil market of oil prices rising over four times to US $ 400 a barrel very soon. This would be catastrophic not only for the Indian but the world economy too. Since US sanctions over Iran has already severely impacted oil prices, the Saudi threat of cutting down on oil production has created ripples in the energy markets and   governments world over are concerned over the evolving situation.

US President Donald Trump has threatened his strong ally with severe punishment if Khashoggi, who had been critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), is found to have been killed. The French, German and British governments have also warned Saudi Arabia through a joint statement calling on the Kingdom to give a complete and detailed account of Khashoggi’s disappearance from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The European governments have warned Riyadh that those found responsible must be held accountable.

The Saudi government also retaliated by a very hard hitting statement, which said that the Kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether through economic sanctions, political pressures or repeating false accusations. Pointing out the fact that the oil rich kingdom plays an effective and vital role in the global economy, the Saudi statement also warned that if the Kingdom is targeted by any action, it will respond by greater action.

Besides the threats of cutting down on oil production, it has also warned of a possible realignment of Saudi-Iran relations and warmer ties with Russia. Saudi Arabia could also cancel the US $ 150 billion deal for acquiring latest arms from US companies. President Trump seems to be worried and has categorically indicated that arms deals with Saudi Arabia would not be affected by threatened sanctions on the Saudi government.

Clearly, both the Saudi regime and the US Administration want to avoid direct confrontation over the issue.  The Saudi rulers have indicated that they have asked the authorities to prepare a report on the alleged killing of Khashoggi, This is seen as a way to defuse international pressures and the Kingdom’s standing in the international arena.

Indian analysts hope that better sense will prevail on the Saudi regime and it would take steps in the larger interest of maintaining stability in the Middle Eastern region.   In the face of severe domestic pressures from the Democrats and human rights activists in the US, the Trump administration may be forced to take tough measures if Saudi Arabia refuses to relent.

Script: Ranjit Kumar, Diplomatic Editor, Navodaya Times