The article deals with Turkey’s treatment of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his consulate in Istanbul on the humanitarian, diplomatic and leadership levels in managing the media battle and turning it into an additional pressure tool for Saudi Arabia. The article, written ten days after the incident, reviews the scenarios expected from Ankara and Riyadh, including the exclusion of a rupture between the two countries.
By Saeed Al- Haj
In just a few days, the disappearance of the well-known Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi has distinctively become a public opinion issue and the focus of international attention, opening the door to countless questions and multiple scenarios about the incident, both its causes and repercussions.
What is certain so far is that Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday, 02 October 2018, in a normal way, but he did not come out of it in a similar manner. This means that the Consulate is fully or partially responsible for his fate; whether he was disappeared, abducted or killed.
The Khashoggi case has grabbed the attention of the Turkish authorities and political leadership, particularly President Recep Tayyib Erdogan who is closely following up every bit of it firsthand given its importance and sensitivity.
Ankara sees what happened to Khashoggi as a serious incident, that necessitates a close and careful pursuance, as well as a commitment to “reveal the facts to the entire world”, according the Turkish President.
For Turkey, the case derives its importance and sensitivity from many factors: Firstly; from a humanitarian angle pertaining to hiding, kidnapping or killing of a human being. Secondly; from the fact that Khashoggi was a world renowned journalist who have had close ties with Turkey’s elites and was planning to marry a Turkish woman.
Thirdly; as far as turkey’s sovereignty, image and security are concerned, the incident was in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Ankara’s precise calculations are that it is unwilling to let such an incident/action go unanswered lest it set a precedent that can be used by some regimes and countries to settle their scores with their dissents in its territories, considering that Turkey hosts quite a number of prominent Arab opposition figures, particularly those from Arab Spring countries.
Moreover, relationship with Saudi Arabia -which is wobbling between chilly and tense, yet Ankara does not want it to reach a breaking point- obligates Turkey to tread carefully on the issue.
Leaks about Khashoggi’s fate are copious while confirmed information are sparse but they generally create a context for a new scenario that has begun to be evident in raising the public awareness.
There is hard evidence admitted by all parties that Khashoggi’s fate is the responsibility of the Consulate –and hence the Saudi authorities- irrespective whether he was abducted or killed; or whether his body was found or not.
The ample evidence the Turkish security authorities presented to the media tend to presume physical liquidation has likely taken place based on a hypothesis of abduction or detention.
Days have elapsed with no comments on the case from Turkish officials who seemed busy sorting out things while some arbitrary statements have spread from people with no link to the investigation.
Against such a backdrop, some features of Turkey’s approach as to how to deal with such a serious incident have emerged and characterized by:
First; the need to stay calm and refrain from jumping to conclusions before giving a formal account pending the outcome of the investigation and receipt of hard evidence. In doing so, Turkey will save itself the embarrassment if its account of events proved futile.
Second; provision of political cover for the investigation through compiling statements of President Erdogan to ensure consistency of the same with the flow of information.
Third; media should be well employed to disseminate information pertinent to the case such as the image of Khashoggi walking into the Consulate as well as photos and names of members of the Saudi security team who happened to be inside the premises at the time.
Fourth; the gradual information disclosure process appeared to be thoroughly studied, well constructed and supportive of the official account.
Fifth; Khashoggi’s case has been widely covered by the international media, particularly those in U.S which recently featured the Saudi journalist’s articles and other writings. Ankara has also shared information with a number of influential world capitals, thus achieving two goals: i.e. keeping the case vivid and internationally pursued; and preventing it from becoming a binary crisis between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
It is particularly notable; Riyadh has not yet provided an integrated account of Khashoggi’s disappearance despite the great embarrassment caused by it. It just said that he had left the Consulate but failed to prove that raising suspicion of the role the Consulate has played in the incident. However, to say that inspectors were officially allowed entering and searching the Consulate –which actually happened in a later stage- or the media were invited to roam within it, could suggest that he is not physically present, but would not prove what had been going on inside it then or later on. Such talk is of little value when it comes to the investigation into a possible role of the Consulate in the matter.
Riyadh could have offered video footage -but refrained from doing that- to prove that Khashoggi had left the building in a normal way. If it did it could have largely cleared its Consulate from wrongdoing.
As the media widely reporting and capitals around the world issuing statements, the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi has thus become an international crisis facing Riyadh that requires a special approach, for keeping mute or feigning inadvertence is no longer useful.
The frequency, content and steady flow of information –though difficult to authenticate- have caused Saudis further embarrassment, forcing them to be more cooperative.
Yet this would also prompt Riyadh to present its full narrative and refute some of the information the investigative bodies have made available; mainly the list revealed by Ankara of Saudi security delegates, whose names of some of them were apparently associated with the Saudi leadership.
According to Erdogan, and based on the course of the investigation and the frequency of information leaked to the media, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that Ankara was able to break the operation code, hence obtained almost all the information required and it is now just a matter of time for it to convey its official narrative in its entirety.
It is expected and logical that Ankara presents a security story related to the event, its contexts and individuals, with the purpose of proving or dismissing the responsibility of the different parties allegedly involved in the case. In addition, it will be deemed as an attempt to uncover Khashoggi’s fate and his whereabouts.
It is likely that Ankara will not point fingers directly to the Saudi leadership. But with the later failing to repudiate responsibility of its Consulate would automatically place it in the dock, which will definitely have repercussions.
Khashoggi's case –as it happened and what may be disclosed later- came as a devastating blow to the recent narrative of reform, modernization and liberalization of Saudi policies. That case could lead to crises and tensions with several influential capitals in the world, and could pave the way for a possible indictment of the Saudi regime, hence subjecting it to international sanctions.It is therefore likely that if the Saudi security team in question is found implicated in the crime, Riyadh may try to wash its hands from it and claim that it acted without direct instructions from the Saudi leadership.Such a disavowal, if happened, would serve as a formal admission of a Saudi responsibility of the incident, yet it may ease pressure on Riyadh and provide a possible way out in lieu of condemning the entire regime.
Khashoggi’s case will undoubtedly cast a shadow over the Turkish-Saudi relations. The issue may have direct repercussions on the diplomatic representation between the two countries, including a possible expulsion of the Saudi diplomatic mission from Turkey for allegedly violating the Vienna Convention as Erdogan has repeatedly implied.
However, it is not anticipated that things will reach the point of rupture between the two countries, given Turkey’s keenness on relations with Saudi Arabia particularly in view of the ongoing financial crunch.
It is axiomatic to say that the extent of the Saudi reaction and discourse over the investigation outcome, will determine the future path of their bilateral relations.
In conclusion, we are undoubtedly encountering an exceptional, complex and open-ended scenario, some of which may be disastrous and influential in the system of regional relations and the structure of the Saudi regime.
But all this remains in the context of analysis and prospects, pending the outcome of the Turkish investigation and the evidence provided therein, and the would-be international interaction.
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