Why Trump mentioned Israel in his Saudi statement

President Donald J. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, May 23, 2017. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead


President Donald Trump affirmed on Tuesday that the U.S. would continue to stand with Saudi Arabia despite Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s suspected involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month. One of the reasons he offered in support of his decision: Saudi Arabia is in a position to help Israel.

THE STATEMENT — “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” Trump said in the lengthy statement, which made mention of the kingdom’s agreement to invest $450 billion in the U.S. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.”

WHY IT MATTERS — “Jared Kushner saw Prince Mohammed as critical to advancing a peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians that has been a major focus of his time in the White House. Mr. Trump’s hawkish aides, encouraged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, saw the prince as critical in marshaling a coalition to isolate Iran.” [NYTimes]

EXPERTS TELL JI — Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, to Jewish Insider: “Trump is far more invested in the campaign against Iran than he is the campaign for Middle East peace and his decision to prioritize strategic interests in not further penalizing Saudi Arabia for the Khashoggi murder appears to reflect this focus on pressuring Iran.”

“While I believe the Administration is fundamentally making the correct strategic decision, its tactics may backfire, given that Congress may react to the White House’s apparent indifference to the Khashoggi murder with an overreaction that does real and lasting damage to U.S. interests in the Gulf. I would have preferred the White House extract a pound of flesh from Riyadh so Congress doesn’t decide to extract ten pounds of flesh.”

Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro tells us: “Trump associating Israel with his bizarre statement formally letting MBS off the hook for Khashoggi’s murder does Israel no favors. The fact is we do need a reliable Saudi partner to help confront an aggressive Iran. So does Israel. But the problem is, with MBS in charge, we don’t have one. What we have is a Saudi Arabia that shares certain strategic interests and is pursuing a limited set of reforms, but which is led by a reckless, vindictive, violent ruler whose personal vendettas actually weaken the strategic coordination against Iran. That’s not good for the United States or Israel.”

Dore Gold, former Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, adds: “It would be a mistake to read too much into President Trump’s mention of Israel as a factor in U.S. considerations regarding Saudi Arabia. Trump actually based his arguments for preserving U.S.-Saudi ties on traditional American interests including the Kingdom’s role as the world’s largest oil producer and as the decisive player in determining its price. It is true that Israeli and Gulf state interests have come to overlap in recent years, which is why it is so important to explore ways they can work together under these changed circumstances.”

GOP LAWMAKERS RESPOND In a press statementSen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) likened Trump’s embrace of Saudi Arabia to former President Barack Obama’s charm offensive with Iran. “One thing I learned during the Obama years is that when you look the other way regarding problems in the Middle East, it seldom works out,” Graham said.

“Time and time again President Obama chose to look the other way as Iran took increasingly provocative actions. Each time it led to even worse Iranian behavior and created even larger problems for the future. Likewise, it is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.”

Sen.-Elect Mitt Romney (R-UT) tweeted, “America can’t excuse and minimize the brutal and gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident and columnist. Our country is defined by human values, by principle above convenience, and by commitment to morality. We must subject the perpetrators of this outrage to withering sanction.”


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