Joe Biden was right to meet with Saudi Arabia's MBS - opinion

The following are recent killings of journalists in the Middle East, some of them from countries and entities which are respected or highly-regarded by the US.

 SAUDI CROWN Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks to US President Joe Biden during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit, earlier this month.  (photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/REUTERS)
SAUDI CROWN Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks to US President Joe Biden during the Jeddah Security and Development Summit, earlier this month.
(photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/REUTERS)

Following his visit to the Middle East, President Joe Biden was criticized for meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and the question arose of how the president agreed to pay tribute to someone he had previously called a murderer.

Undoubtedly, the murder of the journalist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul was abominable and deserves all condemnation. However, it is important to say, “Enough of this hypocrisy!” MBS is neither the first nor the last to murder journalists/influencers in the Middle East. Perhaps he is the only one that got caught. And no, I’m not talking about the Shireen Abu Akleh incident. Despite what was claimed, she was not murdered: she was caught amid a firefight and hit in the crossfire, while it is unclear who fired the fatal bullet.

The following are some events from recent years, some of them from countries and entities which are respected or highly-regarded by the US.

The killing of journalists in the Middle East

In February 2021, one of Hezbollah’s main opponents, Luqman Salim, was murdered in Lebanon. He was shot in the head while driving his car in southern Lebanon. Needless to say, it can be assumed that Hezbollah is responsible for the assassination. Clearly, the Lebanese government, of which Hezbollah is considered a legitimate member and is represented in the Lebanese parliament, made no attempt to apprehend the murderer.

In the Palestinian Authority, Nizar Banat, a fierce opponent of the PA, died last year in bizarre circumstances, while being arrested by Palestinian security forces. Although he was not a journalist, he was considered an influencer who was not afraid to voice his opinion. Palestinian journalists supported his family, claiming that the PA had “declared war on the freedom of expression.”

 Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the West Bank August 2, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN) Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the West Bank August 2, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

After the incident, during the large-scale protest in the PA, Palestinian journalists were beaten by PA security forces, attempting to suppress them. The beating with a truncheon of one of the journalists was documented and disseminated on social networks. Biden had no problem shaking the PA President, Mahmoud Abbas’ hand.

IN 2019, in Turkey, Sadaf Qabas, a senior reporter for the Turkish channel TELE 1, was arrested for writing blatant and even insulting criticism against Erdogan. Testimonies of journalists in Turkey indicate that Erdogan has arrested more than 200 journalists and there is a great fear among journalists in Turkey to cover what is happening there. As far as I am aware, there is no crisis in the relations between Turkey and the US due to this violation of the freedom of expression.

The Al-Arabiya newspaper leaked details from the meeting between Biden and MBS. It was reported there that the crown prince made it clear to the president that “If the United States maintains relations only with those countries that share its values ​​and principles by a 100%, it will remain solely with the NATO alliance,” adding that “it is important to understand that each country has its different set of values that must be respected by its allies, despite the diversity.” He also mentioned the futility of the US attempt to compel its values on Iraq and Afghanistan.

 In fact, what MBS made clear to Biden is that the Middle East neighborhood operates with completely different codes than those of the West. In fact, throughout the Middle East, except in Israel, there is no democracy, human rights or freedom of expression. All regimes here are either dictatorships or royal dictatorships.

The US must create a consistent, longstanding policy if it wishes to change the Middle East. It will have to invest a great deal of money and resources, exercising violent means over decades and even then, it is not certain that it will succeed. In fact, it has already failed its attempt to do so in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Therefore, although it is explicitly impossible to accept the murder of journalists, one should stop with the hypocrisy. Americans don’t seem to want to pay the price of the Middle East’s Extreme Makeover, with all that it entails. Biden came to the Middle East to do business and nothing more, to lower oil prices and create a platform that will bring increased security to the region in the face of the Iranian threat.

Moreover, the US should work with leaders like MBS, who are making an effort toward progress and creating change in the region. The sanctions and punishments should be directed at those who have no intention of doing so (Iran, Hezbollah, PA, Erdogan, etc.). The dialogue will also allow criticism, but in the jungle laws of the Middle East, criticism cannot be selective or public.

The writer, an IDF Lt. Col. (res.), is the founder and president of Alma Research and Education Center, which focuses on Israel’s security challenges on Israel’s northern borders.