The Ball is in the Saudi Court
Many were disappointed that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not produce a “smoking gun” during his address to his parliamentary group on Tuesday, where he revealed details about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
In fact, little of what Erdogan revealed was new because of the steady stream of leaks to the press by unnamed official Turkish sources, which began almost immediately after Khashoggi’s disappearance. Tellingly, none of the leaked information was denied by the government.
Erdogan may have much more information than he provided, which he is not prepared to give out yet in order to give the Saudi side time to come clean. Rather than the “smoking gun,” though, it was the politics of what Erdogan said about the Khashoggi case that matters.
To start with, this was Turkey going officially public for the first time with what it knows so about this case based on forensic and technical evidence. Secondly, it was Erdogan who provided the details, which shows that the presidency is overseeing the investigation.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Erdogan’s official revelations will force the leadership of countries following this case closely to respond by plying even more pressure on Saudi Arabia.
It was a politically shrewd move on Erdogan’s part to take charge of the Khashoggi case in this way. It put him on center-stage internationally again shortly after his success in Sochi in September where he convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to a ceasefire plan for Idlib.
Erdogan’s information undoubtedly adds to the pressure on the Saudi Royal Family to come up with explanations about the murder of Khashoggi that are more convincing than the narratives issued by Riyadh so far about.
The recent phone call to Erdogan by King Salman Bin Abdulaziz to discuss this affair, and the statement issued after the conversation indicate a desire on the part of Riyadh to avoid a crisis in its ties with Ankara.
It is evident, however, that the Saudi Royal Family will bear a grudge against Erdogan for the way he handled this affair.
No one’s grudge will be greater than that of Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman. As long as his path to power remains open, Turkey’s already loveless ties with Saudi Arabia will remain frosty.
The simple truth is that the botched up operation to eliminate Khashoggi by agents close the Crown Prince has given Turkey leverage over Saudi Arabia, which is a turn of events that must be a nightmare for the Saudi regime.
Turkey, however, did not initiate this crisis so the responsibility of clearing the mess rests with the Saudi Royal Family.
What Erdogan is saying to them seems to be this:
Those who committed this crime, no matter how high up they may be, have to account for it. We would prefer it if they were tried in Turkey because we don’t trust your courts or your investigation. In the meantime don’t expect us to go along with anything that smacks of a cover up
This is a hard one for the Saudis to swallow, so this story, with all its political implications, is not over yet by any means. The bottom line, though, is that the ball is in the Saudi court.