Less than 48 hours after Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and de-facto ruler Mohammad bin Salman vowed to bring the murderers of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi to justice, the Saudi state prosecutor appeared on television and admitted that as Turkey’s President Erdogan stated on Tuesday, Khashoggi’s murder was in fact premeditated. Referencing Erdogan’s public statement, the Saudi prosecutor said,
“Information has come from the Turkish side indicating that the suspects in the Khashoggi case embarked on their act with a premeditated intention”.
This constitutes a substantial a concession in the long running infowar between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. After years of Riyadh’s official media outlets heaping scorn on Turkey due to the fact that Ankara has been deeply supportive of its Qatari partner and also due to the fact that under President Erdogan, Turkey’s influence in the Ummah (global Islamic community) continues to rise while Saudi Arabia’s influence simultaneously declines, today it appears that the charade that Saudi authorities had been playing up since Khashoggi’s murder on the 2nd of October has now come full circle. Riyadh is now confessing that everything President Erdogan and Turkish authorities said was true and by extrapolation, the multiple contradictory explanations that Riyadh previously offered regarding the fate of Khashoggi were false.
As the US has been far closer to Riyadh than Ankara under both the rule of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, today’s Saudi admission of guilt along the lines that Turkey laid out is a further testament to Turkey’s geopolitical independence and influence. It is widely thought that multiple elements of the American so-called “deep state” were applying pressure on Turkey be less bold in its statements against Saudi Arabia, but ultimately it has been the Saudis who have conceded their wrongdoing while every official Turkish statement regarding the Khashoggi has been vindicated before the world’s eyes.
Therefore, Saudi Arabia has clearly moved from a position of unshakeable denial to one that has been shook into damage control. When one compares Saudi’s comparatively rapid concession before Turkey to Riyadh’s indefatigable opposition to Canada in the midst of a recent diplomatic row, it becomes clear that Saudi officials knew they were losing the wider war for the hearts and minds of Muslims throughout the world to Turkey. As such, Riyadh clearly seeks to minimise as much damage as possible by accepting Turkey’s public verdict while also joining Turkey’s calls to bring the killers to justice.
While Turkey maintains that the killers should be put on trial on Turkish soil, it would appear that Saudi Arabia still seeks to prosecute the individuals in question domestically. Now that both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are in agreement that Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a premeditated act of gruesome murder, the questions of possible Saudi-Turkish cooperation revolve around both sides agreeing on who the suspects are, while Saudi Arabia must guarantee that a normal fair trial will be granted to the suspects according to Turkey’s standards. Otherwise, calls to extradite Saudi suspects to Turkey will likely remain.
For the time being, it appears that as part of “operation damage control”, Saudi Arabia will have little choice but to fully cooperate with Turkey. As Mohammad bin Salman has stated that he does not want to “drive a wedge” between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the fact of the matter is that a substantial wedge existed even before Khashoggi was murdered. In this sense, seeing as Turkey has clearly been a more vocal proponent of Palestinian justice and other causes that tend to unite the wider Muslim world, it is now Saudi Arabia that appears eager to improve relations with Turkey so as not to be viewed by the wider world as a nation that is needlessly hostile to a highly influential Turkish power.
This therefore creates a window of opportunity for Saudi Arabia to come clean to Turkey not only over Khashoggi but over reports that Riyadh will send arms, money and troops to north-eastern Syria in an effort to aid the YPG/PKK terror group. Given the present circumstances, Turkey must and likely will make it clear to Riyadh that even the slightest bit of Saudi support to any anti-Turkish terror group will not only be viewed as entirely unacceptable but will be punished with proportionate measures.
As Saudi Arabia has less and less of a diplomatic leg to stand on in its dealings with Turkey, Ankara is in a strong position to force a moderation of Saudi Arabia’s regional policies where the concerns of Turkey’s national security and those of its partners are concerned. In this sense, Turkey is now also in a strong position to mediate in the Saudi-Qatari dispute from a position not just as a Qatari partner but as an internationally respected power whose influence could possibly quell some of the needless tensions between the neighbouring Arab states.
On the whole, Turkey’s moral and diplomatic victory regarding the Khashoggi murder is solidified. Now it is up to Saudi Arabia to show an adequate amount of realism during private discussions with Ankara that are likely being conducted at this very moment.