How Turkish President Erdogan Wins Big from the Khashoggi Crisis
Tayyip Erdogan has never felt more assured in his 15 years at the helm of Turkish government (11 as prime minister and four as president), or closer to his imperial ambitions. He must be congratulating himself for bouncing his fortunes in two weeks from rock bottom to the pinnacle of world affairs, ardently courted by the US and even by his sworn Muslim foe, Saudi Arabia. Until that leap, he was stuck grappling with a sinking currency, which had lost 40pc of its value against the US dollar in just over a year, and roaring inflation. He was embroiled in a bitter hate contest with fellow Muslim rulers, excepting only Qatar, over his support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey had one foot out of NATO, and his massive purges since the 2016 that nearly toppled him had deprived nearly half a million Turks of their livelihood.
Erdogan was catapulted into the winner’s seat by two events:
First, The Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
Second, His order for Andrew Brunson, the American pastor, to be set free on Oct. 12 after being held for two years on the charges of abetting the failed coup and associating with opposition leader Fehullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States.
The two events are still shrouded in a web of mystery. Despite the ”revelations” leaked day by day by Turkish officials, enigmas remain:
- Are the two events connected? Any such connection is denied by President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and circles close to Erdogan. DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources, however, report the conviction of Middle East colleagues that they are.
- The pastor’s release took place on the day that Turkey and Saudi Arabia agreed to set up a joint task force to investigate the Khashoggi disappearance. The region’s watchers don’t believe this was a coincidence. It was aimed at boosting the credibility of the “allegations” Turkish officials were pumping out of Saudi culpability in the journalist’s purported murder and boosting Erdogan’s low repute in Washington.
The Saudis hoped the deal would stem this stream of damaging propaganda. They were disappointed. The source of the leaks was none other than President Erdogan in person. For more than two weeks he has choreographed the campaign against Saudi Arabia and kept the crisis constantly aflame. He was not deterred when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was assigned by President Trump to get to the bottom of the mystery in trips to Riyadh and Ankara. While Pompeo was on his way to the Saudi capital, the unnamed Turkish officials went into action to claim that the mixed Saudi-Turkish forensic team which inspected the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Monday, Oct. 15, had encountered “toxic chemicals,” purportedly used to clean up the scene of the alleged Khashoggi murder.
DEBKA Weekly’s Middle East sources find it hard to believe that Erdogan produced a scenario so accurately timed to meet actions taken in Riyadh and Washington, without help. They surmise that the Turkish MIT spy agency procured assistance in some quarters of a foreign agency with links to the Khashoggi affair.
The starring role President Erdogan captured by means of the Khashoggi disappearance will support some of the grand objectives that were out of his reach on Oct. 1:
- Stabilizing the Turkish lira with US and Saudi financial assistance. Washington may now lift the sanctions imposed on Ankara over the imprisonment of Pastor Brunson, while Riyadh may also fork out huge sums for removing the Khashoggi affair from international headlines and agenda.
- From being treated like a pariah by mainstream Muslim nations like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Erdogan’s Turkey may win acceptance as an ally.
- His standing in the Muslim world will be much enhanced, one of his most coveted ambitions.
- This enhancement will pave the way for his appointment as mediator in the Saudi-UAE feud with Qatar.
- Erdogan gains more say in determining Syria’s post-war future.
- His clout is seriously strengthened in dealings with Moscow and Tehran.
The Turkish president’s taller posture in the wake of the Khashoggi affair was not lost on the Trump administration in Washington. Therefore, while the region’s attention was fixed on the Khashoggi commotion, Washington made its move in Syria. On Monday, Oct. 15, The Secretary’s Special Representative for Syria engagement, Ambassador James Jeffrey, was disclosed by the State Department to be “traveling to Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia on Oct. 15-23 for discussions with allies and partners about Syria.” The communique went on to say: “Throughout his trip, ambassador Jeffrey will seek to meet representatives of the Syrian people and reiterate to them our full support for UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and UN Special Envoy de Mistura’s efforts to set up the Syrian Constitutional Committee as soon as possible.”