Biden Blows Hot on Tehran, Cold on Riyadh

The Biden administration has announced that it is “recalibrating” its relationship with Saudi Arabia to include cutting off arms sales, rehabilitating the Houthis in neighboring Yemen, and intentionally snubbing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, widely known by his initials, MBS.

Democrats in Congress and the media have long made a cause célèbre of the Saudi Crown Prince. They despise his ruthless crackdown on corruption, because he has centralized the money-font in his own hands. They fear his hostility toward Iran, his friendliness toward Israel, and do not comprehend his seemingly progressive views toward women and Islam.

But what really irks them the most was his close relationship to President Trump. For that alone, in the eyes of the Biden administration, he deserves to be punished.

So it was that the new Director of National Intelligence, Avril Raines, took the unusual step recently of declassifying a three-page intelligence community assessment that the Crown Prince “approved” the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident who had become the darling of Washington Post journalists and lobbyists for Saudi rival, Qatar.

In the political world, it was a two-fer: the “damning report” was intended to damage President Trump, who despite reading it continued to lionize the Crown Prince and expanded U.S. arms sales to the Kingdom. And, of course, it showed MBS as a cold-blooded killer.

Or did it?

Here is the actual wording in the assessment used to conclude that MBS ordered the killing:

“At the time of the Kashoggi murder, the Crown Prince probably fostered an environment in which aides were afraid that failure to complete assigned tasks might result in him firing or arresting them. This suggests that the aides were unlikely to question Muhammad bin Salman’s orders or undertake sensitive actions without his consent.” [emphasis mine]

That’s four caveats in two sentences. This “assessment” is barely an educated guess. It’s a supposition based on opinion, not on any hard intelligence. No wonder President Trump did not take it seriously.

But Biden and his advisors did. Their natural hostility toward MBS has been compounded by the Saudi’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal and his warnings about the threat posed by the Islamic regime in Tehran, which at one point he compared to Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Mohammed bin Salman

Photo credit: Mazen AlDarrab CC By-SA 3.0 license

Returning to the failed Iran nuclear deal has become the key foreign policy goal of the new administration. Nearly every major national security official named, confirmed, or up for confirmation played a role in negotiating the 2015 deal.

They include Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, his deputy Wendy Sherman, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Iran “czar” Robert Malley, CIA Director William Burns, and Colin Kahl, his nominee to become undersecretary of defense for policy.

All are deeply and personally invested in seeing the Iran nuclear deal revived.

The question is, why? Why this seemingly irrational love affair of the American left with an Islamo-fascist regime that for the past forty-two years has made “Death to America” its trademark?

The love affair has persisted despite Iran’s involvement in the 9/11 plot, Iranian attacks in Iraq that killed over 600 U.S. soldiers in 2006-2007, and Iranian bounties to the Taliban for each American soldier they killed.

During the waning years of the Clinton administration, top U.S. officials expressed their love for Islamic Iran quite openly, and sought a “global settlement” with the Iranian regime that would right what they saw as America’s “original sin” in Iran, involvement in the 1953 coup that restored the Shah to his throne.

They wanted to open Iran to U.S. businesses, and pointedly refused to help the student uprising in 1999, which we later learned came close to actually toppling the Islamic regime.

Fast forward to the Obama years, when another Democrat administration turned a blind eye to massive nation-wide protests in Iran following their 2009 presidential election, and transformed Voice of America’s Persian language service in the Voice of the Mullahs.

But Embrace the Mullahs 3.0 is occurring in a very different and arguably more sinister global security environment now that Iran has become a virtual nuclear weapons state with advanced uranium enrichment capabilities.

The biggest obstacle to Iran’s regional ambitions is not the United States, or even Israel, but Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, MBS.

As the Kashoggi affair was playing out in public, advisors to then-candidate Joe Biden and other top Democrats were openly meeting with Iranian officials, plotting ways of undermining the Trump administration’s anti-Iran, pro-Saudi policies.

Delaware Democrat Senator Chris Coons met with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during an international security conference in Munich last February, along with fellow mullah-lovers Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

This followed very public meetings between former secretary of state John Kerry and Zarif in 2018 and 2019. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called those meetings “unseemly and unprecedented,” and “beyond inappropriate,” while President Trump called for Kerry to be prosecuted under the Logan Act.

While no Iran-related “October Surprise” seems to have resulted from these meetings, Iran stepped up the pressure in the final days of 2019, killing an American contractor in Iraq. When the U.S. responded with airstrikes, Iranian-backed militias surged toward the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, breaching the walls and setting fire to a reception area on December 31.

It could have been another Benghazi debacle, with American diplomats killed or taken hostage. But instead of doing nothing, as happened under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Trump immediately ordered 200 Marines from Kuwait to reinforce the Baghdad compound, forcing the militias to retreat.

And then, of course, the President ordered the January 2, 2020 drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Qassem Suleymani.

According to a clandestine source in Tehran with proven access to top Iranian regime officials, including Foreign Minister Zarif, the Iranians believe the Saudi Crown prince played a role in Suleymani’s assassination in Baghdad on Jan. 2, 2020, possibly by providing intelligence on the timing of his Baghdad visit with an Iraqi militia leader.

While the Saudis have never acknowledged involvement in Suleymani’s killing, MBS is known to have authorized Saudi intelligence officials to meet with their Israeli counterelGrat!parts – a far more controversial step than meeting with U.S. intelligence planners.

The Iranian source argues that just two weeks after Suleymani’s killing, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a “fatwa” or religious edict authorizing the assassination of MBS and placed a bounty of $50 million on his head.

The source claims that the Quds Force came up with four separate plots to kill MBS, eventually settling on a rocket attack during the November 2020 G20 summit in Riyadh that also would take out President Trump. The Saudi members of the hit team were selected because they came from “reputable wealthy families” and all had “clean backgrounds,” he said.

The Riyadh summit was ultimately cancelled as an in-person event because of Covid and was held virtually, so the plan to launch the rockets during the speech of President Trump came to naught.

It’s no secret that the Iranian regime despised and feared President Trump. A top regime polemicist, Hossein Shariatmadari, vowed in a column published in the daily Kayhan in September 2020, just before the Riyadh summit, that “Mr. Trump should know he will be a key target of the IRGC. It makes no difference if he remains President or not!” (The full column can be viewed in the Persian original here.)

Given the public hostility the Biden White House has shown toward MBS, it’s hard to imagine a strenuous response from the United States should the Iranians succeed in killing him.

Indeed, physically removing MBS from power would accomplish far more for Biden’s goals of cozying up to Iran than merely smearing his reputation with the Kashoggi plot.

The Saudis have made it clear they will vigorously oppose any revival of the Iran nuclear deal and have openly hinted they could launch their own nuclear weapons program to counter Iran’s.

The question remains whether President Biden’s “tilt” toward Iran will come at the price of tossing the Saudi Crown Prince under the bus and jettisoning the long-standing close ties between the U.S. and the Saudis.