Punish Saudi Arabia, but Don’t Jettison the Alliance

Oct. 18 2018

It now seems clear that the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was abducted and killed by Saudi officials, although whether his death was deliberate is an open question. Yet now is not the time for Washington to jettison its longstanding, and often troublesome, alliance with Riyadh, writes Sohrab Ahmari:

What the Saudis did to Khashoggi was awful and appalling. The Saudis do lots of other awful and appalling things, too. Beheadings. Judicial amputation. Discrimination against the Shiite minority. Outright bans on the practice of religions other than Islam. The global promotion of an especially literal and intolerant brand of Sunni Islam. All of this was well known before Khashoggi walked into the consular trap the Saudis set for him.

Even so, Saudi Arabia isn’t a sworn, systemic enemy of the U.S. or the American-led order in the Middle East. Saudis don’t actively wage war against our forces and interests in the region. Their state is not founded on the mantra of “Death to America, Death to Israel, Death to Britain” (that would be the Islamic Republic of Iran, Riyadh’s archenemy). Washington can’t afford to make another enemy in a part of the world that is already full of them. Remember, too, that if the Saudis can be terrible friends, they can be even worse enemies.

[Moreover], isolating Saudi Arabia would almost certainly doom the diplomatic rapprochement between Jerusalem and Riyadh, among the most astonishing—and welcome—global developments in recent years. . . .

None of this is to suggest that Saudi authorities should be allowed to get away with murdering Khashoggi at their consulate on foreign soil. That would set an unacceptable precedent, all but guaranteeing open season on dissident journalists in a region where they are already an endangered species. But the Western response must be measured. We must be mindful that a cruel order is still better than disorder, that a bitter friendship is still better than enmity and friendlessness, and that no Jeffersonian democrats are waiting in the wings among the Saudis.

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More about: Israel-Arab relations, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, Wahhabism

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics