America continues to drag its feet with Turkey
Turkey’s strained relations with Saudi Arabia that were first exacerbated by the Saudi led boycott of Turkey’s Qatari ally and have now been made exponentially worse due to the murder of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, have coalesced to place Turkey on the moral high-ground in respect of its touch-and-go relations with the Wahhabi Kingdom. Yet in spite of this, while the US should be focusing as much on improving relations with Turkey as on reviewing its relations with Saudi Arabia, something different is occurring and Israel is at the heart of this somewhat counter-intuitive reality.
Throughout the Khashoggi affair, Israel and Iran have made virtually no public statements on the matter. The reasons for this become self-evident when one understands Israel and Iran’s end game in the region. Israel has spent years covertly cultivating warm relations with Saudi Arabia and its key contemporary Arab allies including Egypt which in 1979 became the first Arab state to establish relations with Israel. While in 1979, Egypt’s relations with Riyadh were nowhere near as strong as they are today, in 2018, although relations remain unofficial, Saudi Arabia is the closest Arab ally to Israel.
Throughout the period that Israel has grown closer with Saudi Arabia, Tel Aviv’s policy makers have also decided that it is not Arab Nationalist states that are its biggest enemy but that the Islamic Republic of Iran is Israel’s biggest enemy. This marks a major shift in Israeli policy as in the 1980s, reports denied by both Tel Aviv and Tehran suggested that Israel covertly armed Iran during an Iran-Iraq war in which the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France and West Germany all supported Saddam’s Iraqi forces.
Since the 1990s, most of the Arab Nationalist governments of the region have either been destroyed by the United States or in the case of Syria severely weakened through the long running war. Meanwhile, geographically distant Algeria’s Arab Nationalist government appears to be of little consequence for Tel Aviv.
Thus, one has arrived at a situation where Israel’s greatest opponents in the Arab world have either been eliminated or weakened while Israel continues to build an anti-Iranian axis whose centre-point is the un-declared but self-evident Saudi-Israeli partnership.
As Israel grows closer to Saudi Arabia, Israel simultaneously continues to engage in the formation of an anti-Turkish alliance that incorporates not only Saudi Arabia but also Turkey’s traditional Hellenic rivals and its contemporary Egyptian rival. Once one understands the dynamics of Israel’s hostility towards its former Turkish partner and its ever growing relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Hellenic states of the eastern Mediterranean, it becomes all too clear why Tel Aviv has said nothing about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi even at a time when Tel Aviv pompously attempts to lecture the Turkish democracy on civic ethics.
The war for public opinion vs. geo-strategic realities
When it comes to the war for public opinion, Saudi Arabia has already lost and lost big when it comes to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. While for weeks Riyadh offered perplexing denials of having any role in Khashoggi’s disappearance, now the Saudis have officially stated that the journalist was in fact murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as a result of a fight that broke out. Oddly, the Saudis have not described the nature of the fight, how it started and by whom and furthermore, they cannot explain why something as obvious as a “fight to the death” took weeks to confirm. In other words, the Saudi narrative carries little if any credibility while Turkey’s forthright, calm, serious and dignified approach has validated everything that President Erdogan’s Turkish government has said about the matter from day one.
That being said, Israel does not want to acknowledge that Turkey took an objectively ethical and legally sound approach to the matter while Tel Aviv’s Saudi de-facto ally has been exposed as both incompetent in terms of an attempted cover-up and also devious in terms of at minimum allowing a gruesome murder to take place inside one of its consulates.
Israel’s silence however is not merely because Tel Aviv does not want to expose its Saudi partner beyond that which has already occurred. Nor is Israel’s silence merely motivated by a reticence to admit that Turkey got something absolutely right while Saudi Arabia got the same matter absolutely wrong. Israel’s powerful lobby groups in America have already done much to prevent a much needed Turko-US rapprochement and as a result it is no surprise that Israel’s silent dog-whistle to the US has led the overtly pro-Israel and mutually pro-Saudi White House to accept Saudi Arabia’s explanation for the murder even though the court of public opinion has already deemed Riyadh to be a guilty party. In this sense, beyond America’s business dealing with Riyadh, it is Israel that is preventing the US from taking the necessary positive steps towards Turkey at this time while it is equally Israel that is preventing the US from taking the necessary punitive steps against Saudi Arabia.
One would assume that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi would be an issue tailor made for Iran as it vindicates the position of Turkey – an increasingly important Iranian partner and neighbour, while also exposing its hated foe Saudi Arabia as supremely guilty and supremely dishonest in the international court of public opinion – including among many who themselves have negative views about Iran’s government.
Yet while Israel’s silence is effectively a signal to the US to retrench rather than review relations with Riyadh, Iran clearly does not want any attention of any kind on itself because this is one issue of an act of violence in the region that even the most anti-Iranian elements of the US government could not possibly blame on Iran. Iranian officials risk foisting attention back to itself by making a statement and hence Tehran’s leadership has decided to bite its tongue over the matter.
While Iran has sacrificed its principles to shelter itself from unwanted negative attention from the United States, Israel continues to put a freeze on Washington in respect of re-starting its long standing partnership with Turkey while at the same time it is Tel Aviv that is prohibiting the US from taking any meaningful action against Riyadh. This is not likely to change any time soon.