Sputnik has discussed possible retaliatory measures that Saudi Arabia might resort to amid pressure over the missing journalist's case with Gawdat Bahgat, professor of national security affairs at the National Defense University's Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Study.
Sputnik: Riyadh warns it will not be undermined by political pressure and could respond with a bigger action. What realistically can Saudi Arabia do?
The two holiest Islamic places are in Saudi Arabia; Saudi Arabia shares very important intelligence information with other countries, not only Western powers but also in Russia the war on extremist groups Saudi Arabia is very important. Saudi Arabia is also very important in the oil industry and in arms sales. So, the whole world is interested in Saudi Arabia. So that's why Saudi Arabia has some leverage to intimidate the rest of the world or to threaten retaliation.
Sputnik: Realistically, what would you expect Saudi Arabia to do?
Gawdat Bahgat: If I may, I can make two points here. Saudi Arabia is not popular at all in the American public opinion. The great majority of Americans had a very negative perception of Saudi Arabia even before what happened with the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It looks to me very unlikely that the administration will take the initiative to impose any sanctions on Saudi Arabia; more likely the Congress will take the lead and at the end the Trump administration will have no choice but to follow the Congress.
The global economy will collapse. That has never happened before. As we speak, western powers are imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran, two major oil producing countries; if they add Saudi Arabia, it has never happened before, and this will deal a huge blow to the global economy.
Sputnik: It would be very difficult to switch to other options but then there's Russia which is also under sanctions and could become of this a nice little sanctioned the by the West club, and perhaps, Saudi Arabia could pivot towards Russia to a greater extent, what are your thoughts on that?
Gawdat Bahgat: This is exactly what I believe. I believe there will be some kind of sanctions, some kind of punishment for Saudi Arabia. It is hard now to decide exactly how severe these sanctions will be, but I believe with pressure from Europe and from the Congress there will be some kind of sanctions, some kind of punishment for Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi reaction will be, I believe, to get closer to Russia and China and also to Israel. One way to get the American public to accept Saudi Arabia is closer relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel; and it is hard to see how this will play out, but I believe this Cold War mentality to try to play off one superpower against the other will not work.
Sputnik: Bottom line, how effective would any efforts to sanction Saudi Arabia really be?
Gawdat Bahgat: I don't believe it will have much impact. It might delay or complicate their plan to reform the economy, to have foreign investment; but at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia has a lot of money and is investing in many countries including Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Europe. Saudi Arabia is not Libya. So I believe sadly, the whole issue will be behind us in a few weeks, a few months, and Saudi Arabia will survive this.
Views and opinions expressed in the article are those of Gawdat Bahgat and do not necessarily express those of Sputnik.