Istanbul Intrigue

A Saudi flag flutters atop Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul

Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi’s disappearance on 2 October resembles the plot line of a spy novel. Kashoggi, a frequent critic of the Saudi government, as well as the de facto head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Saudi Arabian branch, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain papers needed to get married. His fiancée waited outside, and when he did not leave by the time the consulate closed, she reported him missing. The Saudis claim that Kashoggi did leave the consulate through a back entrance. The Turkish government, however, argued that he was still inside, later amending their position to the belief that Kashoggi was tortured and later killed inside the building. The Turks later claimed that a 15-man team was brought in from Saudi Arabia to handle the operation.

Predictably, Kashoggi’s disappearance has bloomed into a major international incident. The Saudis and Turks are sticking to their stories. Investigations are underway, and supposedly both countries are cooperating with a joint investigation. The global outcry from media, and human rights organizations is reaching a fevered pitch. The future of Turkish-Saudi relations, already strained before this incident took place, could very well rest on the fate of Kashoggi.

This episode has also placed the United States in an awkward position. Both Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are American allies. The Turks have been sharing the alleged video evidence in their possession with US officials, and this morning Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who was arrested on treason and sedition charges in October of 2016, was released from Turkish custody. This latest move is most likely a calculated one made by the Turkish government to bring US support to its position, and version of events. Saudi Arabia is another close US ally in the region. Washington has been pressing Riyadh for answers both publicly, and in private. The Trump administration has not ruled out economic sanctions against the Saudis if they are found to be responsible for Kashoggi’s kidnapping, though punitive measures are unlikely.

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