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The mysterious ‘killing’ of top Saudi journalist and what it means for the Middle-East

Shantanu Mukharji
Shantanu MukharjiOct 08, 2018 | 15:54

The mysterious ‘killing’ of top Saudi journalist and what it means for the Middle-East

Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia — already under severe strain — have taken more beating after leading Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi’s death, who is suspected to have been murdered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi (59) was last seen entering the Consulate on Tuesday. His disappearance caused a huge flutter and Turkish establishment was under pressure to find out Khashoggi’s whereabouts. According to Turkish authorities, it is their strong assessment that not only was the murder premeditated, Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents and his “dead body” was later mysteriously removed.

jamal_100718085857.jpgKhashoggi (59) was last seen entering the Consulate on Tuesday. (Photo: Associated Press)

The whole case looks like an Agatha Christie mystery — one that is, however, going to kick up a diplomatic row further impairing relations between Riyadh and Ankara.

The alleged murder, cloaked in deep mystery, assumes more global significance because Khashoggi was a high-profile journalist with penetrating international connections. Khashoggi had relocated to the US on October 2, 2017, fearing trouble (or even harm) from Saudi authorities — at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) — for having remained a strong voice of dissent, always vociferous in castigating the Saudi government for its anti-people policies, severe Wahhabism, persecution of Houthis in Yemen, economic blockade of Qatar and myriad other problems.

The alleged murder has now provided the Turkish government with readymade fodder on a silver platter, who, in all likelihood, would exploit it to the hilt for its political advantages.

It is well-known that Turkey and Saudi Arabia have, of late, been involved in a fierce competition to gain supremacy in the Middle East and Gulf region. President Erdoğan of Turkey has left no stone unturned to expose Saudi Arabia for the “murder most foul” to assert Turkey’s supremacy in the region.

Against this backdrop, the Saudi Ambassador in Ankara was summarily summoned by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on October 4, post the disappearance of Khashoggi. Simultaneously, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Erdoğan’s party) spokesperson Ömer Çelik came down heavily on Riyadh on the murder issue.

Interestingly, it is now said that a 15-member Saudi delegation had come to Turkey recently and the delegates also comprised, among others, diplomats and security or intelligence contingent. It is suspected that the “murder” was possibly the handiwork of Saudi agents, and that the operation was conducted in order to silence Khashoggi.

On its part, Riyadh has told Turkey to undertake vigorous investigations to unearth the case and may even search the Consulate premises for incriminating evidence. The plot thickens.

A question worth asking is what brought Khashoggi to Istanbul?

Knowledgeable sources say that he had come to collect some documents from the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul with regard to his impending marriage to a Turkish woman called Hatice Cengiz, who disclosed that she was waiting outside the Consulate but Khashoggi never came out.

While the Turkish authorities seem confident in their assessment that Khashoggi was indeed murdered, the US administration, while exercising abundant discretion and caution, has said that they are monitoring the developments in Turkey and are yet, not in a position to confirm the death.

erdogan_100718085929.jpgErdoğan of Turkey has left no stone unturned to assert Turkey’s supremacy in the Middle-East. (Photo: Reuters)

Khashoggi, at the time of his disappearance, was working for the Washington Post and writing almost regularly under the “Global Opinion” column.

Other than his journalistic commitments, he had always occupied key positions and was the editor-in-chief of Al Hayat and other vociferous media outlets including Al Watan, known for airing progressive views. He was closely connected with the Saudi Intelligence as well.

His firsthand knowledge of the region and nexus with all kinds of people wielding authority made him suitable to be handpicked in an advisory capacity for the Saudi intelligence and he regularly advised the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki al Faisal on sensitive matters.

Prince Turki later became the Saudi Ambassador to the UK and the US, exposing Khashoggi to numerous roles of critical importance.

His stated commitments apart, his services were duly appropriated more than once in meeting Al Qaeda supremo, Osama bin Laden even when he was in hiding in Tora Bora in Afghanistan and once in Sudan. Khashoggi had even interviewed Laden and once tried to convince him to abandon the path of terrorism. Such was the access and charisma of the slain journalist.

As far as optics go, this case has exposed MBS as ruthless tyrant, who in the recent past, has tried to stifle voices of dissent of several human rights activists, journalists and his tough measures including crackdown on those elements perceived to be anti Saudi regime.

Khashoggi is believed to be one of the targets.

crown-prince_100718090010.jpgWhose hand was it? (Photo: Associated Press)

MBS critics are saying that now the Royal Kingdom is now seen worse than a Zionist terror state. However, it is unlikely that he would tone down his actions; instead the state would be further emboldened by the attempts to eliminate Khasshogi to send a strong signal to those opposed to MBS and his designs.

It is, perhaps, possible that MBS is labouring under a sense of extreme superiority thanks to his connections with the US. It is also possible that MBS has struck a new tie-up with the Israeli secret service — this operation in Istanbul has the footprints of high-calibre professionalism seen in the cases of unseen hands eliminating their opposition with silence and finesse.

Saudis are, perhaps, trying to perfect their excellence in furtherance of their plans and the world must expect more covert operations by Saudi Arabia in a not-so-distant future with Iran as its primary target.

An alumnus of the Indiana University, Khashoggi would have turned 60 on the 13th of this month.

His exit from the media world and alleged murder, of all places in Istanbul, would see further deterioration of the Saudi-Turkish ties, especially in the light of Iran trying to woo Turkey to alienate Saudi Arabia to secure its geopolitical interests.

Last updated: October 08, 2018 | 15:55
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