Pressure should be on the US regarding the missing Saudi journalist
The Turkish leadership might be feeling relief that they have at least avoided a collision course with Riyadh, which would have forced Ankara to use the nuclear option: To force their way in to the Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, where Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is suspected to have been murdered.
The fact that Saudi Arabia’s Consul General Mohammad al-Otaibi has left Turkey for his country cannot be explained by diplomatic immunity. Turkish authorities had all the legal grounds to stop him from leaving the country.
That he was left off the hook attests to a tradeoff. The royal House of Saud probably accepted the search to be conducted by Turkish investigators in the consulate on the condition that the consul general in Istanbul would be able to leave the country. The tradeoff probably included the house of the consul general, but the Saudis backed off at the last moment, prompting the Turkish side to voice criticism that the Saudis are dragging their feet.
From flat-out denial of any involvement, the Saudis have come to the point of starting an investigation. By leaking information to the international media, the Turkish government has tried to push the royal House of Saud towards admission of guilt.
Speculations that the royal House of Saud might blame “rogue elements” and claim King Salman and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had not been informed seems to have shifted the focus toward another scenario, according to which the investigation of Khashoggi went wrong and there was an accidental murder.
Yet, the leaking of intelligence by the Turkish authorities leave no room for doubt that whatever happened 12 hours before Khashoggi entered the consulate and 12 hours after had all been meticulously planned. There is no sign of panic; no sign that could show things had not gone as planned.
The reason why the Turkish government has let the small fish off the hook and let the Saudi diplomat leave Istanbul may aim to target the big fish. But what is the big fish here? That is the big question.
If the 15-member death squad were to be tried and found guilty, are we going to consider that justice has been met and case closed?
Turkish authorities have shared information that would indicate the murder could not have happened without the direct knowledge of the crown prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
Is Ankara after the crown prince known by his initials “MBS,” who has not particularly been fond of Turkey’s policies?
There are speculations in the Turkish media that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using this case for political gains.
Is Erdoğan forcing the Trump administration to use its leverage so to curb the power of MBS? Would that serve justice? Would it be seen as a political gain? Or, as the saying goes, would it be like hitting two birds with one stone?
Seeing that the United States is unwilling to compromise MBS, will Turkey help the Trump administration save the reputation of the royal House of Saud from major humiliation and ask in reverse for some concessions in U.S.-Turkish ties?
No doubt Erdoğan’s course of action on the Khashoggi case will be scrutinized, especially in terms of the famous “value based principles” approach that his advisors have said had been shaping Turkey’s policy in the Middle East, especially during the Arab Spring.
However, international attention should relentlessly focus on Washington. Not only because it is the only capital that has leverage over Riyadh but because MBS was most likely encouraged by the blank check he received from Trump as well as the constant attacks in the media.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo’s smiles with King Salman ahead of his conversation about a cold blooded murder of a journalist would be remembered as a despicable shameful instance in the history of journalism.
And let’s not forget, while U.S. sanctions continue to be imposed on two Turkish ministers for the detention of U.S. citizens in Turkish prisons (one of them has just been released), we are talking about an assassination of a journalist working for a U.S. media outlet.