Jamal Khashoggi: How will/can Saudi Arabia react on possible sanctions?

Saudi Arabia says it will respond to any outside sanction regarding the case of Jamal Khashoggi with the bigger action, Saudi media warns the US that with eventual sanctions it will stab itself to death and many Gulf and Arab countries supported Riyadh. But countries like the UK, France, Germany ask for answers regarding the fate of Mr. Khashoggi. Where could this lead, do you think a crisis with some global consequences is brewing, or do you see this less dramatically, and why?


Anthony BillingsleySenior Lecturer of International Relations, School of Social Sciences, UNSW Sydney

Given Saudi Arabia’s heavy reliance on the US for political and military support, the disaster of the Saudi attack on Yemen and the apparent failure of Mohammed bin Salman’s 2020 economic reform, it’s hard to see how the Saudis could inflict any serious pain on the US and countries demanding answers to Kashoggi’s death.

They could attempt to raise the price of oil by reducing production but that would affect them negatively and and may not be as effective as it has been in the past.

These factors are also part of domestic concern about the Crown Prince’s behaviour. Rumours about family frustration have not been corroborated but persist.

The incident does seem to have produced a change in relations between Turkey and the US, which might undermine the tentative alliance between Turkey, Iran and Russia – we saw tensions there at the last meeting of the presidents of those states.

On the other hand, while the US congress seems to be keen to pursue the matter, the White House seems much less enthusiastic. Trump has extensive family and business interests in Saudi Arabia and the exposure of Mohammed bin Salman could prove embarrassing for Trump.

In addition, Mohammed bin Salman has, to a point, painted himself into a corner. It’s hard to see how he could admit to such an act (blaming someone else would not work) without him losing face.

I think we need to look at the interests of the various parties to see how this will develop. The Trump administration would not want to see serious unrest in the Saudi elite and both the Saudis and US will probably try to revive the bogey of Iranian influence. They both may attempt to string this affair out (holding drawn out enquiries) until the media and outsiders have lost interest.

James Piscatori, Professor, Deputy Director, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

It is of course hard to say which way this event will play out.  As you know, Saudi Arabia and the US had never been closer than under Trump and MBS, but the criticisms from the President and influential Senators have clearly rankled the Saudis.  The recent tension with Canada suggests that the Saudis will rhetorically hit back – as they seem to have started to do – but may also take some action.  To my mind, this is likely to be more diplomatic than an oil embargo – withdrawal of diplomats and/or students, embargo on Westerners travelling to Saudi Arabia, maybe even a freezing of new investment initiatives in the Kingdom.

To my mind, a full-scale oil embargo would be counter-productive for the Saudis.  If it were to occur, Iran for sure, and others like Iraq and Kuwait, would immediately increase production and fill the gap.  An embargo would admittedly create short-term problems as the market and importers adjust to alternative suppliers, but in the medium to short-term it would hurt the Saudis more.

Rodger ShanahanResearch Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

There will be a lot of light but not much heat regarding this issue.  As brazen and disturbing as it is, Saudi Arabia will do everything in its power to deflect blame from any key decision maker, and the fact that it is a long-term regional partner and its enormous wealth also means that governments are loath to press the issue too hard.  Some cosmetic isolation will likely occur publicly, perhaps some harder responses in private and there is also the possibility that some minor figures will be made to accept responsibility for what occurred.  The world will then move on, forgetting if not forgiving.

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