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Can The Saudis Take A Turkish Punch?

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Darko Lazar 

These are tough times for Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman. 

The rock star royal who was until recently touted by the Western press as the face of the new, investor-friendly and more tolerant Saudi Arabia is now fighting to keep his seat at the table. 

The diplomatic inferno ignited by the medieval-style murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is burning through one loyal subject after another, and rumors are rife that Bin Salman will soon be consumed by the flames. 

The fallout from the Khashoggi affair, which commenced on October 2 when the journalist walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again, tells us that Bin Salman never saw the arsonist coming. 

Although Khashoggi’s disappearance has all the makings of a great crime flick – the intrigue, the hit team, the brutal murder and even the love angle – it still needed that spark at the right time. Enter Turkey. Through a drip feed of information, the Turks have transformed Khashoggi’s disappearance into an account of a grisly murder, and then into an account of a grisly murder ordered by the top echelons of power in Riyadh. 

It must be said that there is little reason to doubt the accuracy of the information being released, regardless of the official Saudi version of events released late on Friday night. 

And despite the initial buzz about iWatches, iPhones and recordings obtained through Apple devices, whispers in Istanbul say the consulate was bugged. As such, it is only logical to assume that the Turkish intelligence agencies have more in the way of evidence – and much more. 

Now the question is what sort of concessions are the Al Sauds willing to make to keep audio, and maybe even video recordings of Khashoggi’s final moments, out of Al-Jazeera’s and CNN’s newsrooms? 

The so-called joint Saudi-Turkish investigation, Mike Pompeo’s shuttle diplomacy and the skillfully crafted media campaign all suggest that negotiations are well underway.  

According to sources cited by France’s Le Figaro newspaper, the climax of those negotiations may very well see the appointment of a new deputy crown prince in Saudi Arabia – Bin Salman’s younger brother Khaled, to be exact – who will gradually assume the leadership role. 

But speculating about Bin Salman’s future is as complex an issue as trying to figure out who knew what and when about Khashoggi’s disappearance.   

These matters involve competing interests in the highly polarized US domestic political arena, as well as the wider Western world, and its anybody’s guess who is going to be left standing when the dust settles.  

However, Turkey’s motivations for shaking down Riyadh are slightly more straightforward.

A crisis of confidence 

Turkish-Saudi relations have been plagued for years by differences over numerous regional issues. 
In Syria, Ankara has fully integrated itself into an alliance with Iran and Russia, whereas the Saudis are continuing to work with the Israelis and Americans to prolong the conflict. 

Meanwhile, the Turks see Iran as one of the most important strategic partners in the region, while Riyadh treats the Islamic Republic as its arch nemesis.  

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also expressed dismay over Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Qatar, offering Doha both military and political support. 

But before Erdogan had the chance to make his foreign policy U-turns back in 2016, rogue members of his military tried to knock him off his armchair. 

The Turkish president, who was almost killed in the ensuing violence, is unlikely to have forgotten that Persian Gulf monarchies played an important role in his attempted demise.    

So, when Khashoggi touched down in Istanbul earlier this month, the Turks probably decided that the timing was perfect to make their move against the Saudis.

In truth, the timing could not be better. The Saudis are coming under growing international criticism over the bloodbath in Yemen, as well as other human rights violations both at home and abroad. 

More importantly, perhaps, recent weeks have seen US President Donald Trump – Riyadh’s most high-profile ally – repeatedly express dissatisfaction with the Saudi royals. 

Last month, Trump stood before the UN General Assembly and criticized oil-pricing practices, and then he bragged about how he told the Saudi monarch that he “wouldn't last two weeks in power without [US] support”. 

Whatever the motivations for these outbursts, they appear to have gone down very well with the leadership in Ankara. 

Almost immediately after Khashoggi’s disappearance, the Turks let the Americans know that they had damning evidence about what happened inside the consulate.   

Turkey then proceeded to show Washington that it had no desire for another collision with the Trump Administration by quietly releasing American pastor/agent Andrew Brunson. 

That prompted Trump to say that Ankara’s gesture could “lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States and Turkey!”

Trump’s tone towards the Saudis, on the other hand, simultaneously sharpened as he threatened "very severe" consequences if Riyadh was found guilty.

“It’s bad, bad stuff,” the US president said this week. 

In essence, this “bad stuff” has not only eased US pressure on Ankara, but also created a crisis of confidence in the Al-Saud family among Western political and business elites.

The severity of the crisis in Riyadh is further underscored by the growing number of high-profile Western firms backtracking on their previous commitments to the Saudis and pulling out of Bin Salman’s so-called “Davos in the Desert”, high-profile investors’ conference. 

But perhaps even more significant are reports that King Salman has been forced to reassert authority and check his son’s power. 

Turkey has clearly thrown a punch, and one has to wonder, what will Saudi Arabia look like when and if Al Saud gets up again?

Source: Al-Ahed News

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