Will Turkey swallow the killing of a Saudi journalist on its soil?

Will Turkey swallow the killing of a Saudi journalist on its soil?

Although it’s been 10 days, the mystery over the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi is far from being resolved. The only known fact is that he was seen entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 but never seen leaving it. Scores of scenarios on what might have happened to him have been widely covered by both the Turkish and international media, while the international community has strongly accused Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance. 

With more information being revealed, it’s becoming clear that the incident has a multidimensional nature. Quoting anonymous former American intelligence officials, American media argued that the U.S. intelligence intercepted Saudi officials planning to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia upon Prince Mohammed’s order.

However, the U.S. intelligence had never informed the journalist of such plans against him or their counterparts in the United Kingdom and in Turkey before Khashoggi’s visits. If proven to be right, the U.S. administration should explain why it has not taken precautions against Riyadh’s plans of Khashoggi’s rendition.

Another important process is taking place in Turkey as the relevant Turkish state agencies are carrying out a meticulous investigation to find about what really has happened to the Saudi journalist. All the details of 15 Saudi officials who arrived in Istanbul early Oct. 2 and left a few hours after Khashoggi went missing have been published on Turkish media, leaving no room for Saudi officials to deny the visit of what has been called the death squad.

Turkish officials have also expressed their initial conclusion that the journalist might have been killed in the consulate building. Turkey had summoned the Saudi ambassador to the Foreign Ministry twice last week and sought more cooperation on the incident.

Only after these developments on Oct. 9 Saudi Arabia allowed Turkish officials to search the building. However, the search could not be possible due to a disagreement between Ankara and Riyadh over the scope and the nature of the investigation to be conducted at the consulate and the private residence of the Saudi consul general.

On late Oct. 11, Turkish presidential advisor İbrahim Kalın announced the formation of a joint team with Saudi Arabia for a joint investigation on the disappearance of Khashoggi. The details on the composition and the mandate of this joint team are still not clear and it gives the impression that it’s yet another attempt of the Saudi administration to stall the probe.

This raises many question marks over how the investigator and the suspect can team up and look into the case and to what extent it could yield sound and convincing results.

On the political side, Turkey seems to refrain in turning this incident into a long-term bilateral tension with Saudi Arabia. It is, therefore, trying to arouse the international community for a more concerted action if proven that Khashoggi was killed or forcefully apprehended and returned to Saudi Arabia.

It particularly eyes potential moves by Washington against Riyadh, but the latest statements by U.S. President Donald Trump that arms sales to this country or restrictions on Saudi investment would not be affected by this incident should be heartbreaking for Turkish policymakers. Having been relieved by Trump’s move, there seems not so much leverage to push the Saudi administration to efficiently cooperate with Turkey.

Even so, Turkey should continue to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia for a genuine investigation, while at the same time increase the level of cooperation with the international community over the incident.

That should follow heaviest possible diplomatic sanctions against the Saudi diplomats based in Istanbul and in Ankara in order to show to the rest of the world that Turkey is not a country where death squads can be deployed and freely kill dissidents.

Whatever its results might be, Turkey should not leave the disappearance (and the potential murder) of the Saudi journalist unanswered for the sake of its dignity and self-respect.