How will Jamal Khashoggi case impact Turkey-Saudi ties?

The disappearance and possible killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last week inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has thrown a new challenge to Saudi-Turkish diplomatic relations, analysts say, adding the incident might affect the economic ties between the two powerful Muslim nations.

So far, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been careful, Turkish and Arab analysts say, not to pick a protracted and messy fight with Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of Khashoggi – a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Two former senior Turkish government officials, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, said Erdogan would most likely go all the way against Saudi Arabia if it were proven that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate.

Erdogan would not hesitate to act amid strained ties between the two nations over the possible killing of Khashoggi on Turkish territory, they said.

Turkey would make a moral and honourable choice over its economic concerns in Khashoggi’s case.

a former Turkish government official

A former Turkish government source said “Ankara would make a moral and honourable choice over its economic concerns in Khashoggi’s case”.

Both sources said it is unlikely that Turkey would make a cold, economic calculation by giving the Saudi government a pass over the case in exchange for keeping their economic ties intact.

Yakup Kocaman, a consultant with the Turkish ministry of trade, however, says that the incident would not affect the trade ties between the two countries.

The annual bilateral trade between Turkey and Saudi Arabia stands at about $5bn, according to Kocaman.

Saudi Arabia is a major market for Turkish companies, while many Saudi businesses have invested in Turkish companies. Over half a million Saudi tourists visit Turkey every year.

Kocaman said Riyadh is Turkey’s top 20 export destination, with many Turkish infrastructure companies operating in Saudi Arabia.

“I don’t think this tragic event will impact the economic ties,” he told Al Jazeera.

Historic diplomatic precedence

Turkish scholar Galip Dalaybelieves Ankara will make a strong case against Saudi Arabia if it’s confirmed that Khashoggi was killed on its soil.

What we see here is not a minor issue, but a breach of Turkish sovereignty

Galip Dalay, visiting faculty at the Oxford University

The stakes for Turkey are too high but they are diplomatic ones, not economic, says Dalay, who is currently a visiting faculty at the Oxford University in the UK.

Turkish-Saudi ties have been strained in the wake of the blockade of Qatar imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain in 2017.

Ankara is a close ally of Qatar and threw its weight behind Doha in the ongoing dispute between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

“Khashoggi’s case will change things,” he said. “What we see here is not a minor issue, but a breach of Turkish sovereignty,” he said referring to the possible killing of Khashoggi on Turkish soil.

Dalay said the case will have international ramifications. “I do not recall any case of this kind whereby a journalist is killed inside a diplomatic mission in either the 20th or the 21st century,” he said.

“The issue for Turkey, moreover, is also a reputational one.”

Other countries might feel less secure in Turkey, he said, adding that Ankara must send a message to Saudi Arabia that it is not ok to kill or torture anyone on its soil.

Turkish interests first

However, Mohamad Dalbah, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, said that at the end of the day, Turkey will behave like any other country in the world and put its interests over the issues of human rights or the disappearance of an Arab journalist.

“Erdogan will not go all the way against Saudi Arabia over this case and would put Turkey’s interests ahead of any moral considerations,” said Dalbah, who is also a friend of Khashoggi.

He believes the Turkish government, not wanting to ignite a fight with its arch rival in the region, is trying to give the Saudis more time to find a solution – or a face-saving measure – to the quagmire.

However, Dalay, the visiting Oxford professor, said Ankara should escalate this issue internationally and not limit it to bilateral ties with Riyadh.

“Because of its unique diplomatic and legal precedence, Turkey should turn this case into an international process and resort to international legal means against Saudi Arabia.”

Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

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