Khashoggi, Turkey and the Yemen War

November 26, 2018

After “The End” in a movie comes the closing credits with the names of the director, writer, producer, leading cast, supporting cast, director of photography and others who have contributed to its making. “The End” in the Khashoggi tragedy is unlikely to come any time soon but the audience already knows the story and the leading cast.

“Statement from President Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia” issued on November 20, 2018 summed up Washington’s position: Iran is “the world’s leading sponsor of terror” and the Saudis have been a great ally in the fight against Tehran and that is not going to change.

As for the murder, the Trump Statement read, “… Saudi Arabia says that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime… it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

In other words, in order to exonerate Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman and underrate the murder, President Trump is saying that this was a crime but Jamal Khashoggi was no angel. Thus, he wishes to put the whole episode behind and continue business as usual. As for the Congress sanctioning Saudi Arabia, anything going beyond token measures seems unlikely.

And, for a change, Europe might be happy to follow Mr. Trump’s lead in imposing ostensible sanctions on some Saudi individuals and shelve the case.

President Erdoğan, on the one hand, looks determined to confront the Crown Prince who said that Turkey, Iran and extremist groups represented a “triangle of evil” in the region (*). MBS may have said or done more which Turkey’s leaders found offensive. And, the choice of İstanbul for the murder and the attempt to assign Turkey the responsibility for Khasgoggi’s disappearance by using a “body double” was devious. On the other hand, President Erdoğan looks equally determined to hold “Custodian of the two Holy Mosques” King Salman in high esteem. This is understandable up to a point. However, this title also puts a heavy responsibility on the Kingdom’s rulers’ shoulders to earn international respect beyond the custodianship of Islam’s holiest shrines.

Last Friday Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu reportedly criticized the U.S. President. “Trump’s statements amount to him saying ‘I’ll turn a blind eye no matter what,'” he said. “Money isn’t everything. We must not move away from human values.”

The Khashoggi tragedy has helped turn international attention to the war in Yemen. It is generally agreed that at least 10,000 civilians have been killed mostly in errant airstrikes. According to a new analysis by Save the Children, an estimated 85,000 children under five may have died from extreme hunger or disease since the war in Yemen escalated. Fourteen million people are said to be facing starvation in what the United Nations has said could soon become the worst famine of the century.

The Saudi-led intervention initially gave the impression of being a swift operation and Turkey’s political leaders expressed support. This has not proven to be the case. Since they always claim to be on the side of the oppressed, standing up for noble principles, they should now consider speaking up on Yemen’s ordeal. Regardless of their being in Gaza or Yemen children are children. This would also underline that Turkey can rise above the sectarianism which has plagued the Middle East for so long. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubair told the BBC that his country will pay for Yemen’s reconstruction. Money isn’t everything and can’t bring lives back.

Crown Prince Salman who was rarely seen in public during the last two months is currently on a regional tour. Saudi media has reported that he will attend the G20 summit in Buenos Aires at the end of the month. The twin objectives of this long absence from Riyadh must be to show that he is fully in control at home and has made peace with the world. The G20 summit may witness a lot of diplomatic theatre with bilateral and perhaps trilateral meetings.


(*) “Time heals what reason cannot”, October 26, 2018.


About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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