On 29 December, 1170, four royal courtiers waylaid Archbishop Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. As it happens, I have a personal interest in the story: it was my own dear son-in-law’s putative ancestor (and namesake) who delivered the crushing mortal blow. Of course King Henry II had nothing to do with the assassination. It was all a dreadful misunderstanding. In a fit of frustrated pique over some transient tiff Henry had supposedly muttered “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Never was it the King’s aim to be taken literally – oh no, by Jove – but his dim witted knights tragically missed the point of his rhetorical irony – it is not known if they were Jewish – and Henry lost his beloved soul mate.
Thoughts of the Becket killing come to mind in the wake of the murder in Istanbul of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, arch critic of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The parallels are uncanny. The prince’s henchmen reportedly first demanded that Khashoggi return with them to Riyadh. Henry’s men wanted Becket to accompany them to Winchester for questioning. In each case the victim refused.
The Saudis admit that members of the hit squad were close to the prince but bin Salman implicitly denies sanctioning the murder when he loudly proclaims his country’s determination to get to the bottom of the atrocity.
So what’s he saying? That he never ordered the killing but that his misguided acolytes must have misread his intent when he mouthed angry imprecations against his exiled nemesis?
If King Henry could get away with it so might yet the Saudi Crown Prince.
He might well urge us to accept that it would have been the height of folly to embark on a crime so easily exposed. But how often have I commended that argument to juries only to hear them pronounce the fatal word “Guilty!”
It might stick in the craw to acknowledge the demands of geopolitical reality but it will probably benefit the State of Israel and the prospects for regional stability if the Trump family’s friendship with bin Salman can survive the Khashoggi murder.
We should never lose sight of the continuing existential threat to Israel posed by the mullahs of Iran. We should not for one moment forget the regime’s sponsorship of Hezbollah, now equipped in Lebanon and Syria with an estimated forty times the number of rockets the faction deployed in 2006. Nor should we overlook what horrors Iran’s current President, Hassan Rouhani, is capable of perpetrating. Just like bin Salman he beams with beguiling twinkle, but as I have previously asserted in this newspaper and demonstrated elsewhere, he was one of the Iranian government’s three principal conspirators who plotted the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. (Forget about Ghadaffi.) And then there is the nuclear issue.
Whatever Donald Trump’s other failings of perception and comprehension might be, with Benjamin Netanyahu he is spot on when it comes to the mullahs. It will be remembered that on November 4, 1979, agents of the then new Iranian regime under the Ayotollah Khomeini stormed the American embassy in Tehran and held its 52 staff hostage for 444 days. The 39th anniversary is the date the Trump administration has set for proscribing crude oil purchases from Iran. The loss of revenue may finally pave the way to the collapse of the mullahs and the founding of a true secular democracy. Trump’s alliance with the House of Saud is vital. It is absolutely pivotal.