Source Responsible Statecraft
WASHINGTON, U.S.--President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided to sacrifice Turkish efforts to seek justice for the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, apparently in hopes of attracting Saudi financial support and investment for Turkey’s inflation-ravaged economy.
That appears to be what’s behind the sudden announcement by the lead prosecutor in the trial in abstentia of 26 Saudis indicted for Khashoggi’s murder that the case should be moved to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi chief public prosecutor’s office had requested the transfer, and evidently the Turkish courts are planning to comply.
The decision reflects Erdogan’s apparent desire to improve Turkish-Saudi relations and reap the financial rewards, as he has with the UAE, specifically with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
The Turkish-Emirati rivalry reflected tensions left behind by the political upheaval of the 2011 Arab Spring. Erdogan sought to support newly elected Islamist governments in Tunisia and Egypt and provide assistance to Islamist actors vying for power from Libya to Syria.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia blamed both Turkey and Qatar for supporting Islamist movements around the region, a fear that prompted them, along with Bahrain and Egypt, to initiate a blockade against Qatar in June 2017, with the initial approval of the Trump administration.
Yet Turkish-Saudi relations have remained strained since Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. At the time, the Turkish media’s slow and steady release of information helped to maintain attention on the gruesome story, while subsequent investigations by Turkish authorities concluded that the hit team was closely linked to, if not ordered by, the kingdom’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Erdogan has held power as either prime minister or president of Turkey since 2003. Erdogan and the AK party’s electoral strength derived primarily from Turkey’s economic growth throughout much of his tenure, driven in part by massive investments in construction, funded by foreign credit and a gaping current account deficit.
In addition to his efforts to improve ties with the Saudis and Emiratis, Erdogan has also looked to ameliorate relations with Israel, which have been tense for over a decade.
Since then, Erdogan frequently highlighted the plight of Palestinians while providing diplomatic support to Hamas, including offering the party’s leaders sanctuary in Turkey. Israel responded by allying with Turkey’s rival Greece as well as the Republic of Cyprus, holding joint military drills, and partnering on gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
The recent visit to Ankara by Israeli President Isaac Herzog signals a reset in Erdogan’s stance. Despite the preceding decade of acrimony, Turkish-Israeli ties are long-standing: Turkey was the first Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel in 1949, and, encouraged by the administration of Ronald Reagan, its military developed particularly close ties with the Israel Defense Forces during the 1980’s.
Given the emerging degree of cooperation between Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. against Iran, Erdogan’s recent efforts to pursue closer ties with each of these countries may reflect not only his interest in winning foreign investment but a strategic calculation about the future balance of power in the region.
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