The making of a nuclear MBS

Trump’s endeavour to nuclearise Saudi Arabia is driven by family business interests and tacitly approved by Israel.

Jared Kushner
US President Donald Trump and senior adviser Jared Kushner meet then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh on May 20, 2017 [Reuters/Jonathan Ernst]

Like chronic indigestion that refuses to go away, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner is back causing much discomfort to the general public. 

“Kushner meets Saudi’s MBS for the first time since Khashoggi murder,” Al Jazeera recently reported, “The meeting focused on ‘increasing cooperation’ between Washington and Riyadh, as well as the Middle East peace process.” 

But there might be more on their plate than just another bogus “peace process”. 

Kushner has two paramount concerns while sitting comfortably in the big pocket of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS): pursuing his own personal financial gains and helping Israel steal what is left of Palestine. MBS also has two objectives while playing with Kushner, like a shiny marble in his pocket:  To confront Iran and to establish himself as a ruling tyrant not just in Saudi Arabia but throughout the Arab and Muslim world.  

The slaughter of innocent men, women and children in Yemen and the butchery of Jamal Khashoggi are the first flowers of his dream of a Saudi Spring. But in his pursuit of power and glory through murder and destruction, MBS does not seem to be satisfied with using only conventional means. It appears that he is now harbouring a great desire to go nuclear and the Trump administration is more than willing to oblige.

As the New York Times recently revealed, the Trump administration has been pursuing a deal with Saudi Arabia to develop its nuclear energy sector. “By ramming through the sale of as much as $80 billion in nuclear power plants, the Trump administration would provide sensitive know-how and materials to a government whose de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has suggested that he may eventually want a nuclear weapon as a hedge against Iran and has shown little concern for what the rest of the world thinks,” the newspaper claimed.

At the forefront of these efforts, of course, are Kushner and his business interests. It turns out a company that bailed out his family after an ill-conceived real estate deal in New York brought them close to bankruptcy now intends to sell nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia.

That, along with other shenanigans, has gotten the US security establishment worried. Their attempts to cancel his security clearance, however, have been repeatedly overridden by his father-in-law.

Hence, Kushner remains undeterred in his pursuit to nuclearise Saudi Arabia.

In exposing this worrying reality, the US media, however, has made two very wrong assumptions: one, that a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia somehow contradicts the interests of the Israeli leadership; two, that it is the result of some kind of a Gulf-money entrapment.

‘An island of democracy in a sea of instability’

In a column for the New York Times, American journalist Nicholas Kristof makes a valid observation that there are “too many unanswered questions about the White Houses’ role in advancing Saudi ambitions”. But he also makes the incorrect claim that the Israeli government is “objecting” to the nuclearisation of Saudi Arabia.

Given that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law has been the principal driving force behind a “peace plan” that aims to strip Palestinians of all their legitimate rights and legalise the Israeli occupation, it is hard to believe that he is now pursuing a policy that contradicts Israeli interests.  

The Kushner family is known not only for their extensive business interests in Tel Aviv and support for illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but also for their close personal relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And if the Israelis managed to convince Trump to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, would they not be able to stop his administration from nuclearising Saudi Arabia, if they really wanted to? What is stopping Netanyahu from standing in front of the UN with a little bomb chart, warning the world that Riyadh is so close to acquiring a nuclear weapon?

Indeed, Israel’s defence policy for a long time has focused on making sure no Middle Eastern country ever acquires a nuclear weapon that could threaten its security – hence, its sabotage attacks on Iranian and Iraqi nuclear facilities.

That its leadership is not too worried about a nuclear Saudi Arabia is quite telling. It means that normalisation of Saudi-Israeli relations has advanced so far that Tel Aviv feels confident enough that a Saudi nuclear programme would not constitute a threat. It also means that it intends to be involved in the process in order to control it and make sure Saudi Arabia does not achieve military equity with its defence capabilities.

The reason why a Saudi nuclear programme is in the interest of the Israeli settler colony is very simple: It would fuel Saudi-Iranian rivalry, keeping them in a permanent state of war in the shadow of nuclear proliferation, which is good for Zionism, and of course, for the Israeli arms industry. It would keep the populations of both countries preoccupied with the imagined Sunni-Shia conflict and make them increasingly oblivious to the plight of the Palestinian people and the desecration of the holy sites in Jerusalem. 

The prospects of these two regional adversaries being embroiled in perpetual conflict, while chasing after a nuclear programme, frees up Israel to steal the rest of Palestine. It also reinforces the myth Israel has put much effort into maintaining: that it is “an island of democracy in a sea of instability” in the Middle East. It is a myth often used to justify why the US should continue to extend unconditional support for the Israeli state.

Spreading US ‘best practice’ 

In his column for the Financial Times, British journalist Edward Luce offers a crucial warning about the dangerous corruption of Kushner’s deals with MBS: “In the cold war, US nuclear diplomacy was called ‘atoms for peace’. In this case, it looks more like ‘atoms for bailout’.”

But while criticising the Trump administration, Luce succumbs to delusional old-fashioned Orientalism, claiming that: “US administrations used to spread best practice to the Middle East and beyond – or at least to pay lip service. Under Mr Trump, the flow has reversed. Washington is importing the Gulf’s culture of patronage clientelism.”

When precisely was it, pray do tell, that US “spread best practice to the Middle East and beyond?” When in collaboration with British intelligence, it staged a military coup in Iran, removing a widely popular and democratically elected prime minister? Or when lying to the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and defying the United Nations, it invaded Iraq, precipitating the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the incitement of sectarian hatred and the complete annihilation of the country’s infrastructure?

And how is it that the home-grown maleficence of a real estate mogul, accused of a litany of fraud and tax evasion crimes, and the greed of his equally suspect son-in-law are somehow rooted in “the Gulf’s culture of patronage and clientelism”?

It turns my stomach to see how opinion makers in the US and the UK are so pathologically oblivious to the terror of their Orientalism that right in the middle of assessing the horrors their countries are perpetrating around the globe, they still manage to blame us for what they do to us. 

Donald Trump is as corrupt as Tony Blair or even worse – one a blue-blooded American from New York and the other a blue-blooded Brit from Edinburgh, Scotland. They are yours, the product of your societies, so own them up.

That both of them have sowed chaos and endangered regional and global peace in the pursuit of self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement has much to do with the colonial cultures from which they hail. And it is the imperial power they have projected and exploited that has contributed greatly to the entrenchment of “the culture of patronage clientelism”, corruption and authoritarianism in the Middle East and beyond.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.