Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, this article seeks to engage the reader in thoughtful discourse over the current state of U.S.- Middle East affairs, particularly as they pertain to Iran and Saudi Arabia. Falling oil prices, recent reports of several additional senior members of the Saudi royal family being detained, and other concerns over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (MbS) ruthless rise to power provided the impetus for this article. With Amazon CEO’s Jeff Bezos’s phone hack as our framing event, let’s take stock of what we know:

It was reported earlier this year that Israeli spyware from infamous firm NSO Group was likely used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to hack Jeff Bezos’s phone in response to the Washington Post’s coverage of the kingdom’s grisly murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018. The Post, which Bezos owns, was understandably upset one of its journalists was targeted and assassinated. It was thus that Jeff Bezos became a high value target for Saudi malign influence.

As details regarding the Bezos hack emerged, we also learned that US-based media publisher American Media Inc. (AMI) initially attempted to blackmail Bezos using personal and sensitive photos yielded from the hack in a failed attempt to stop the latter’s investigation into the matter, specifically to conceal details of the cell phone hack, and subsequently, the now-identified connection to MbS. Bezos retained security consultant Gavin de Becker to investigate the matter, which de Becker summarized in a revealing piece to the Daily Beast in March 2019.

While details of the relationship between AMI and the Saudis remain forthcoming, questions remain regarding other similar abuses of power, misallocation of nation-state resources, and how men in power will do what they can to retain it. It is likely the very same spyware used by MbS to infect Bezos’ phone was implanted on the device of the Post’s Khashoggi, who was an outspoken critic of the repressive Saudi regime.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS). 

What we have are the power and resources of a nation-state being ruthlessly wielded against enemies of an authoritative regime, but the story does not end here. Enter President Trump’s publicly and previously reported feud with Jeff Bezos over the Post’s research into Trump’s past, a reportedly close relationship between Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner with MbS, and a 2017 White House dinner attended by AMI CEO David Pecker (a long-time friend of Trump’s) and a French businessman close to MbS who acts as an intermediary between the Saudis and western businesses.

Not unlike Trump’s purported involvement in Ukraine with recent impeachment efforts, the reader gets a similar sense of wheeling-dealing power plays not known to the public. While details and full understanding of this situation remain forthcoming, similar inferences are available to the observer.