By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used his weekly address Tuesday to discuss in some rather political terms the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
On Oct. 2, the same day that Khashoggi went missing, Turkish authorities were already speaking with their Saudi counterparts about the journalist’s disappearance. A mere two days later, Erdogan summoned the Saudi ambassador to explain the situation.
It’s clear from the speed with which the Turks jumped into the case that they knew what was going on and that there was a political dynamic beyond internal Saudi palace intrigue involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
It was therefore no surprise when Turkish officials announced that they had recordings of what transpired in the Saudi consulate, where Khashoggi was last seen alive. In addition, a multitude of other evidence has since been leaked to the press.
Disclosures Show Turkey’s Willingness to Expose Espionage Methods
Of note in the Turkish officials’ disclosures is their willingness to expose some of their intelligence collection methods against foreign entities operating on Turkish soil. Though it’s no surprise that Turkey spies on the diplomatic institutions in the country, it’s not something that is typically acknowledged by the surveilling party.
Furthermore, the speed at which Turkey leaked this information suggests that this Saudi consulate is a high-priority intelligence target. That is an interesting note, considering how many world powers and militant dissidents operate in Turkey.
Turkey Likely Seeking to Isolate Saudi Arabia
One would think that Turkey’s intelligence apparatus would be consumed with the war in Syria and the Kurdish separatists that Ankara has been battling for decades, not to mention the ongoing posturing of Russia, the U.S. and Iran. Because Turkey is eyeing the Saudis so closely, that speaks to Ankara’s regional ambitions and its dogged coverage of the Khashoggi case.
With the Khashoggi case, Turkey likely sees an opportunity to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia in an attempt to isolate Riyadh in the Middle East.
Turkey was an early backer of some Arab Spring movements that supported political Islamism similar to that of Turkey’s ruling AKP party. But as the uprising cooled and political Islam was once again smothered, Saudi Arabia retained its top spot in the region at Ankara’s expense.
Turkey would use levers of its own in the more recent matter of the Qatari blockade led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.
Turkey was a staunch defender of Qatar in an attempt to undermine the Saudi move. Although the Qatar blockade is still a burning problem, Turkey’s defiance has kept Saudi Arabia from making more aggressive moves against its neighbor.
Turkey Seeks to Undermine Saudi’s Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman
Turkey is now going for the jugular. If Turkey can undermine the newly minted Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, who stands accused of ordering Khashoggi’s assassination, then there is a chance that Turkey can throw the Saudi royal succession into disarray. The broader political Saudi body would also be adversely affected.
This weakening of Saudi Arabia would allow Ankara to move more aggressively in its bid for regional leadership and to shape the region more to Turkish liking. It has yet to be seen if Saudi Arabia can be weakened in such a way, but the Khashoggi case certainly demonstrates the Saudis’ vulnerability to outside political forces.
The case also shows that Turkey has not given up on its regional ambitions, despite the setbacks it has suffered over the last few years.