More important, they also expose two big lies of the Palestinians: 1) the Islamic attitude towards the Jews; and 2) the Islamic relationships concerning Jerusalem.
1) Islam and the Jews: Love-Hate Relationship
Islam’s attitude towards Judaism and the Jews is a fascinating tale that began with admiration and imitation. Muhammad was highly influenced by the Jewish religion and in fact he admired the Jews as a model to imitate. The 90 Meccan Sūwar (p. of Sūrah) contain the history of the Jews from Abraham and his descendants to Moses and the Children of Israel in Egypt and Sinai Desert and to Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel. Moses was the chosen personality and he appears in 34 Sūwar.
Many of the Islamic views originate from the Jewish religion and traditions: Tawhīd, the belief in one unique God and denial of Fetishism. The belief in sin and Punishment, Hell and Paradise. Ummah, the religious congregation; Salāh, the prayer as an exhibition of the belief and the direction (also Jāhilīyah origin). Sawm, the fasting (together with Jāhilīyah origin). The heroes of Muhammad and Islam were Jewish and above all of them are Abraham and Moses. It is of note that Muhammad encompassed the history and creation of the Jewish people, being the chosen people, and the best of this is the centrality of the Land of Israel to the Jews.
Initially, Muhammad had no intention to establish a new religion. During the Mecca Period, Muhammad admired the Jews, as attested to in the Sūwar of the Qur’an. He explained that since the Jews have a book (Tawrat) and the Christians have a book (Injīl), and the Arabs have no book, he endeavored to give the Arabs a book. Muhammad introduced to the Arabs a book akin to the Tablets of the Testimony, which were given to Moses at Mount Sinai and contain great virtues.
The Qur’an insists that the Jewish Scripture is the voice of Allah. This is the book that Moses was given on Mount Sinai and it is the only truth as spoken by Allah and given to the chosen people, the Children of Israel. Moreover, when the Arabs mocked at Muhammad and persecuted him, he attested the Jews to remove the doubts about his prophetical prophetic messages and being the seal of all prophet.
Muhammad publicly stressed the Children of Israel are the Chosen People, and he will make Abraham and his descendants the leaders of all peoples:
O Children of Israel, remember my favor which I bestowed upon you, and that I exalted you (Faḍḍaltukūm) over all nations. We certainly chose them (Akhtarnāhūm) by knowledge over [all] the worlds (‘Ala al-‘Alāmīn). We showed them miracles which tested them beyond all doubt. We gave the Book to the Children of Israel and exalted them (faḍalnāhūm) above the nations. We have cause the Israelites to inherit them (Awrathnāhā).
Thus, there is much material in the Qur’an which links the Children of Israel to the Land of Israel. Abraham came to this land when he first left his homeland; the Children of Israel came to the Land when God brought them out of Egypt; the Temple of the Children of Israel stood in this Land. God promised that they will be gathered together in the land just before the end-times.
Allah’s promise to the Children of Israel is that He will never renege on his promise, therefore they must not leave their land, and otherwise Allah will grow angry with them and punish them. The Children of Israel were also given the Book as an inheritance, wa-Awrathnā Banī Isrā’īl al-Kitāb. The Book was bestowed upon those whom Allah has chosen, Alladhīna Istafaynā Min ‘Ibādinā. The Qur’ān also honors the Children of Israel with peace, guidance and safety. Allah will “destroy your enemies and make you rulers in the Land,” wa-Yastakhlifakum Fīl-Arḍ.
Not only Muhammad recognized the only rights and legitimacy of the Jews to the Land of Israel according to its biblical borders, but he insist that they must live only in it.
And we caused the people who had been oppressed to inherit the eastern regions of the land and the western ones, which we had blessed (al-Arḍ Allatī Bāraknā Fīhā). And the good word of your Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel…
Enter, my people, the Holy Land (al-Arḍ al-Muqaddasah), which Allah has decreed for you (Allatī Kataba Allāhu Lakum) and do not turn back and [thus] become losers.
And we said after Pharaoh to the Children of Israel, “Dwell in the land, and when there comes the promise of the Hereafter, We will bring you forth in gathering.”
The Land of Israel is the “Holy Land” (al-Ard al-Muqaddasah); the “Blessed Land” (al-Ard al-Mubārakah); the “Land of Israel” (Ard Banī Isrā’īl). That is why Ibn Kathīr goes so far as to consider these verses a divine command to Israel for Jihad to enter the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. Though they sinned and strayed from Allay, their punishment was to delay their entry for forty years, after which they were to enter the land. They are also commanded to “enter the gate” which refers to the Land of Israel.
If the Macca era until September 622 and the beginning of the Medina period was characterized as one might say a love story between Muhammad and the Jews, the Medina period until Muhammad’s death is totally different. The love story transformed into hatred and animosity and ended with racial and religious anti-Semitism; genocide (Banū Qurayza tribe); ethnic cleansing (expulsion of the Jewish tribes Banū Nadīr and Banū Qanūwqā’), and by prohibiting the Jews from living on the Islamic lands.
Muhammad immigrated to Yathrīb, which became Madīnat an-Nabī (the City of the Prophet), exactly because Jews were there. However, after Badr War (March 624), everything was changed. Two main reasons were indicated:
a) Muhammad and his small group of supporters went from being persecuted to vanquishing their enemies. The immediate result was a rapidly growing community of followers. The figures are impressing: in twelve years of preaching in Mecca Muhammad had only at most 150 followers. After the victory at Badr, almost ten thousand joined his ranks. This fact shows one of the most important characteristics of the Arab political culture, namely following the war hero, the conqueror. However, the crucial result of Badr victory was that only from that period of time on Muhammad proclaimed himself as a prophet who brings a new religion to the Arabs, which is separate from that of the Jews. Now his preaching were not only warmongering against the infidel Arabs but precisely against the Jews.
b) The Jewish tribes of Medina, Banū Nadīr, Banū Qanuwqā’ and Banū Qurayza, reacted against Muhammad’s new approach and objected him as a prophet similar to the prophets of the Bible, and mainly being the seal of all prophets and the Qur’an is the words of Allah. The Jews refused to accept him, claiming he was a false prophet.
From Muhammad’s perspective, the Jewish tribes expected of him to embrace their own religion, however he declared adherence to the basic religion of Abraham and rejected the demand to follow their own religions. Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but a pure monotheist Muslim (Ḥanīfan Musliman), and so are those who “who follow him, the Prophet and the true believers.” Abraham was also the founder of Mecca’s sacredness. Allah assigns to him the place of the Ka’ba, and tells him to purify it and proclaim to the people the duty of pilgrimage. The Qur’an also insists that the rest of the prophets, too, were the same, pure Muslims.
Muhammad claimed that the destiny of Islam is to control the entire world, being the only legitimate religion. Later on Muhammad proclaimed that all of prophets, from Adam and Noah to Abraham and his children, and to Moses, David, Solomon, Job, Jesus and Peter – were his prophets, Muslim prophets. The Muslim believers are the chosen community, and not the Jews, and Islam is above Judaism and Christianity. The full and last revelation from Allah was given to the Arabs by Muhammad, and the Qur’an is the final and superior scripture. Consequently the Ka’ba has become the religious center of Islam and the Ḥājj has transformed into Islamic ritual.
The Jews were mortal challenge to Muhammad, and according to the aggressive Arab political culture that externalizes the guilt, his reaction was brutal accusing the Jews with all the faults and sins. Consequently, the tribes of Banu Nadīr and Banu Qaynuqā’ were expelled, and their property was seized and expropriated to the Muslims. After the Battle of the Trench (627) all of the males from Banu Qurayza, from the age of fertility to the elderly were slaughtered, their heads cut off by a line, while the women and children were coerced to convert to Islam.
Now, the Qur’anic depiction of the Jews is highlighted in Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:61 and Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 3:112. They are considered “cursed” and “enemies of Allah”, deserving of death. This is also expressed in the prayer Muslims say at least 17 times a day: Allah’s rage is upon them, therefore, he turned them into apes and pigs. Their worst sin was that they distorted the texts and intentionally concealed the appearance of Muhammad and his prophesies. They are the devil’s minions, and if they do not accept the true faith of Islam they will burn in the Hellfire. They are also “liars”, “accursed”, “stone-hearted”, “despicable traitors”, and the worst of all animals. They are the worst enemies of Islam, in fact the worst of Allah’s creation, and rats are in fact “mutated Jews.” It is the duty of the Muslims to persecute and kill the Jews:
The Day of Judgment will not come, until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. And when the Jews will hide behind a tree or a rock, the tree and the rock will call out: “Oh Muslims, oh, servants of Allah! A Jew is hiding behind me; come and kill him.”
Only Islam remains the religion of Abraham that Allah forwarded to Muhammad for the sake of all humanity. The Jews have become infidels, and they lost Allah’s covenant (Mīthāq). Their guilt: they associate others with Allah, like the idolaters.
2) Islam and the case of Jerusalem
According to the Palestinian narrative, the sanctity of Jerusalem stems from the following Islamic sources: a) Jerusalem is the first Qiblah, the prayer direction of the Muslims. b) Jerusalem is the third Ḥaram, Islamic holy place, after Mecca and Medina. c) Muhammed had supposedly made a miraculous a night trip to the Temple Mount, built a mosque there, and returned to Mecca that very night. According to this, Muhammed had thus established Jerusalem’s status and centrality in the Islamic faith and religion.
a) “Jerusalem is the first Qiblah” – what are the facts? When Muhammad made the Hijrah to Medina, he instructed his followers to pray like the Jews, towards al-Shām. It is important to note that even Bukhari, from the 9th century perspective claims that the direction of prayer was towards “Shām,” without any mentioning of Jerusalem. The Qur’an never mentions Jerusalem by name. The pagan Arabs had absolutely no affiliations or regard for Jerusalem and had no idea as to what it. Moreover, direction of prayer is Jewish tradition, unknown to the Arabs.
The refusal of the Jews, after 16-7 months of his presence in the Medina, to follow Muhammad’s new ‘theology’ turned him into their implacable and spiteful enemy to the extent that he made a 180 degree reversal and ordered to change the direction of prayer to the Ka’ba, the pagan shrine of Mecca.
Allah’s Apostle prayed facing Bayt al-Maqdis [the Jewish Temple Mount] for sixteen or seventeen months but he loved to face the Ka’ba. So Allah revealed: Verily, We have seen the turning of your face to the heaven (2:144). So, the Prophet faced the Ka’ba and the fools amongst the people namely ‘the Jews’ said, what has turned them from their Qiblah which they formerly observed? [Allah revealed]: Say: To Allah belongs the East and the West. He guides whom he will to a straight path (2:142)… Some men had died before the Qiblah was changed towards the Ka’ba. So Allah revealed [2:143].
The Prophet prayed facing Bayt al-Maqdis for sixteen or seventeen months but he wished that his Qiblah would be the Ka’ba. So Allah revealed 2:144 and he offered ‘Asr prayers and some people prayed with him. A man went out and passed by some people offering prayer in another mosque, and they were in the state of bowing. He said, I, by Allah, testify that I have prayed with the Prophet facing Mecca. Hearing that, they turned their faces to the Ka’ba while they were still bowing.
Ibn Sa’d agrees. In Mecca, Muhammad used to pray towards the Jewish Bayt al-Maqdis, with the Ka’ba in front of him. After his Hijrah he continued praying towards Bayt al-Maqdis for sixteen months and then he was instructed to turn towards the Ka’ba. By that, Jerusalem has lost its sacred status, and the Ka’ba remains the only Qiblah, and is identified as the ultimate Qiblah of Allah’s prophets.
Jerusalem was the prayer direction for only “16 or 17 months,” not because of religious reasons but because Muhammad wished to obtain the favor and support of the Jews when he arrived in Medina. The reason he fled in September 622 to Medina, was exactly because the Jewish tribes reside there. He thought that his admiration to the Jews and in fact that he wished to bring the Arabs a “Jewish book,” would help him to integrate in Medina more easily.
However, after the Jews objected to his claim to represent the Jewish religion and of being the last Jewish prophet and even mocked him as false prophet, and after Muhammad became a victorious war hero the instruction was amended from then on, Muslims must not follow the Jewish traditions, and were to pray toward Mecca. When Muslims pray, they face Mecca; in Jerusalem Muslims pray with their backs to the city toward Mecca. Even at burial, the Muslim dead face is turned toward Mecca.
Muhammad’s stance towards the Jews shifted totally to a deep hatred and animosity. Following this decision, Muslims in fact have turned their backs towards Jerusalem while praying. The Ka’ba in Mecca was fortified as a religious center and pilgrimage to Mecca has become an Islamic ritual. It is essential to note: it is not as many says, once the prayer direction was changed to Mecca the importance of Jerusalem was utterly cancelled. This is not the situation. Jerusalem was not important at all. Muhammad never mentioned its name. His former order to his followers was the direction of prayer of the Jews alone, and it was towards “Shām,” Syria.
In their astronomical and geographical analysis, the Muslim group under the title of Muslim awareness, clearly prove that the Qiblah after Muhammad’s death was never to Jerusalem. In their summary, “It was shown conclusively that the early mosques do not point at northern Arabia or even close vicinity of Jerusalem.”
b) Jerusalem is “the third Ḥaram” – what are the facts?
The issue of the “Ḥaram” concerning Jerusalem developed only during the Umayyad Period (750-661), and lasted at most 60 years only. Muhammad Ibn al-Zubayr, Abu Bakr grandson, revolted against the Umayyad ruler Yazid I, and refused to give him swear of allegiance (Bay’ah). After the Battle of Karbala in October 680, he established his power in Arabia, Iraq, and part of Egypt, thus denying the Umayyad Dynasty, its political center was in Damascus, to approach to Hijaz and to practice the Ḥājj, the pilgrimage in Mecca.
Jerusalem, which bordered the desert and being the faraway place from Mecca under Umayyad’s control, was chosen to replace Mecca as a place of worship and pilgrimage. For that, they had to build a mosque, the first in Jerusalem ever. The first structure, Qubbat as-Sakhrah (The Dome of the Rock), was built between the years 688 and 691, almost 60 years after the death of Muhammad (June 632). The second structure, the al-Aqşa, was built in 715, almost 83 years after Muhammad’s death.
From this perspective we can infer that the choice of Jerusalem was based on a political reality and not religious importance. It was only chosen to replace Mecca as a pilgrimage site for the Umayyad after Mecca became unavailable. Indeed, the fall of the Umayyad had also signified the end of the Jerusalem story as a place of Ḥājj. According to the testimony of one of Muhammad’s women, Jerusalem became Ḥaram only at the time when Muhammad admired the Jews and wish to get their political support and their religious legitimacy.
Therefore, Jerusalem being an Islamic Ḥaram is a religious myth that lasted for less of 100 years all in all out of 1300 Islamic history for political reasons. Contemporary Muslims and Palestinians have brought it to the forth for mere political reasons without any substantial religious corroborations.
c) Did Muhammad make a miraculous night visit to the Jewish Temple Mount?
The only reference in the Qur’an employed by Muslims, by means of their egregiously distorted political interpretations in our time, in respect to the sanctity of Jerusalem for Islam, is the first verse in Sūrah 17, Banī Isrā’īl:
“Glory to Him who journeyed his servant by night, from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque” (Subĥāna al-Ladhī Asra’ bi-‘Abdīhī Laylan Mina al-Masjidi al-Ḥarāmi Ilal-Masjidi al-’Aqşā”).
The verse called Isrā’ is connected to the Mi’rāj, which describe how Muhammad had a vision at night in which he hovers with angel Gabriel through the seven worlds while riding on his miraculous horse al-Buraq, and returns to Mecca the same night. On the way to the seven worlds he meets the prophets: Adam, St. John and Jesus, Joseph, Idris, Aaron, Moses and Abraham.
Flying horses and dragons and gods able to fly were common myths centuries before Muhammad. These myths were often grafted onto new religions. The whole story may have been influenced by the story of the prophet Elijah who flew into heaven in a burning chariot pulled by horses. Prophet Ezekiel experiences in Babylon a vision in which he was taken by a lock of his hair and a wind lifted him up between the earth and the heaven” to one of the gates of the Jerusalem Temple. In the following verse it is stated that Ezekiel saw there the glory of the God of Israel. The story of Muhammad has also its source in the story of the ladder of Jacob in the Bible.
The issue from Muhammad’s perspective was that his two most admired Jewish ancestors were Abraham and Moses, and both saw God face to face. God appeared to Abraham and promised him to inherit the Land of Israel. Moses ascended Mount Sinai and received from God the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. So, if his prophets saw God, he is more entitled to see Allah by himself.
The only source from which contemporary Muslims derive the belief in the sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam rests on their interpretation of this event of the so-called night journey on the white horse. The assertion that the Mosque that stands today on the north edge of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the same mosque called al-Aqşā in the Qur’an, that assertion is completely modern that lacks any historical foundation. Muhammad intended to reach heaven in order to behold Allah. Muhammad, in his opinion, was the seal of all prophets, believed that he was in a better situation to see Allah, because he was more important than his predecessors.
However, it is worthwhile to recall that the Jews never claimed that Moses functioned in, or ever visited, Jerusalem. Nor did Abraham, who lived a large part of his life and died in Hebron, ever visit Jerusalem. Most probably it was a very small Jebusite village during Abraham’s day. Moreover, there are no Jewish sources or other religious sources, or political and archaeological from antiquity that can be cited as a source of the story by Muhammad. Nor can it be said that there was some misunderstanding or inaccurate interpretation on Muhammad’s part. It is a pure political propagation promoted by contemporary Muslims for political ends.
Indeed, the Islamic tradition is not based on factual evidence and is not corroborated by religious or archaeological proofs. The claim that Muhammad’s miraculous visit had occurred on the Temple Mount is a new invention, spread by contemporary Muslim and Palestinian propagators. However, the most important and greatest reliable Islamic sages and classical exegetes and commentators discussed the subject of the meaning and place of al-Aqşā mosque. They raised various theories regarding its location, none is that al-Aqşā identified by the Jewish Temple Mount.
1) There is the approach of Ibn Abdallah Muhammad al-Wāqidi (748-822), a historian and biographer of Muhammad, who founded his suggestion on Islamic chain of testimony of authentic witnesses (called Isnād) who identify the al-Aqşā mosque as a prayer area established by Muhammad twenty kilometers north-east of Mecca on the way to Medina. In the Qur’an, the term Aqşa is a description of a location on earth. The verses contain a list of several holy places in the vicinity of Mecca, one of them being al-Mash‘ar al-Aqşa. al-Wāqidi also brings other sages who claim that al-Aqşā was a prayer area built by Muhammad 16 kilometers north-east from Mecca, in a place called Ji’rānah.
2) There is the approach proposed by Muhammad Ibn-Sa’ad (784-845), a biographer of Muhammad, with the consent of Abū Abdallah Muhammad al-Bukhārī (810-870), the most authentic author of the Ḥadīth; and Aḥmad ibn Shu’ayb al-Nasā’ī (829–915), a noted collector of Ḥadīth, who contend that the incident related to al-Aqşā in Surat Banī Isrā’īl, 17:1 occurred 18 months before the Hijrah (migration of Muhammad in September 622) at a place called Maqām Ibrāhīm, near the well of Zamzam – the well in the city of Mecca, adjacent to the Masjid al-Haram and the Ka’ba.
In Mecca, there was a well-known sacred area near the Ka‘ba, namely al-Ḥijr. It was a place of visions experienced during sleep. The best-known example is the dream of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, Muhammad’s grandfather, in which he was entrusted with the task of digging the well of Zamzam. Later sources contain more stories of visions experienced during sleep in al-Ḥijr.
Uri Rubin believes that this year, 619, was the year in which Muhammad’s wife, Khadīja, and his uncle ‘Abbās died, and these events deeply influenced Muhammad and perhaps contributed to this event. Alfred Guillaume has argued convincingly that in its original context the verse refers to a point on the outskirts of the ancient sacred enclave around Mecca.
3) Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (838-923), a Persian historian and biographer of Muhammad, and one of the first commentators on the Qur’an, has collated all of the Islamic sources. He states that Muhammad’s objective was spiritual: to reach the house of Allah in the upper firmament and to see Allah face to face. If Muhammad was to be the last and the most important of all the prophets, and Abraham and Moses had seen God face to face, Muhammad surely would have had to see Allah.
The important thing is that according to Tabari, Muhammad rode to heaven on the heavenly white horse, but did not dismount his horse or pray at any mosque. That was not his mission. He wished to see Allah. Therefore, he pursued his journey to heaven to see Allah and from there he returned directly to Mecca at the same night. Had Muhammad prayed in any al-Aqşā mosque, his followers would have been constrained to pray there, but that was not the case. From this perspective, Muhammad’s ascension (Mi’rāj) was failed, as there was no mentioning he met Allah.
Tabari also states the significance of al-Aqşā as representing not Jerusalem but the edge of the world, the farthermost point in the world. It may refer to “the highest heaven,” reflecting Muhammad’s aspiration to encompass the entire world. Ibn Hishām, states that Muhammad had other night visions which were not inserted to the Qur’an. The Meccans mocked at Muhammad of his night visions, in which he was deeply insulted. According to Ibn Ḥanbal, Muhammad did not erect any Mosque, and these are Jewish traditions called Isrā’īlīyāt.
Muslim exegetes refute this by claiming there is nothing in the Qur’an to indicate that al-Aqşā verse stands for a site in heaven. Rather, it seems to mean that the site is situated at the farthest end of the terrestrial course of the night journey. This verb occurs five more times in the Qur’an, all of which in passages describing biblical history. Three of them describe the nocturnal exodus of Moses with the Children of Israel from Egypt, and in the other two places the verb describes the nocturne flight of Lot with his family from his city. Thus accordingly, the Qur’anic al-Masjid al-Aqşā was identified as Medina.
4) A good summing up of the issue, is Muhammad Ibn-Ishāq (704-761), Muhammad’s most important biographer. He stated there are additional testimonies of Muhammad’s nocturnal journeys that were carried out while he was sleeping and were not included in the Qur’an. These journeys did not include visits to other places (such as Damascus, for example) apart from Mecca. As for this specific journey, he cites the testimony given by ‘Aisha, Muhammad’s beloved wife, who related to the issue of Isrā’ and Mi’rāj by declaring that Muhammad’s body was lying beside her throughout that entire night, but his spirit was taken by Allah and hovered in the heavens.
5) There is also a contemporary explanation introduced by the Egyptian researcher Ahmad Muhammad ‘Arafa (2003) through the medium of the Egyptian Ministry of Cultural Publications. He suggests that Muhammad’s night journey related to 17:1 refers to the Hijrah of the prophet from Mecca to Medina. The journey was not to Jerusalem but to Medina. The word Isrā’ in Arabic that appears in the Qur’an means “to move secretly from a dangerous location to a safe place.” In that way the prophet obeyed the instructions of Allah to the effect that Mecca was dangerous, his enemies were plotting to kill him, and he was to escape secretly at night to Medina. Muhammad’s praise for Allah in the Sūrah, demonstrates the importance of the event for Muhammad’s life and career.
Turkey plays Khashoggi crisis to its geopolitical advantage
With Turkish investigators asserting that they have found further evidence that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed when he visited the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago, Turkey appears to be leveraging the case to enhance its position as a leader of the Islamic World and reposition itself as a key US ally.
To enhance its geopolitical position vis a vis Saudi Arabia as well as Russia and Iran and potentially garner economic advantage at a time that it is struggling to reverse a financial downturn, Turkey has so far leaked assertions of evidence it says it has of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing rather than announced them officially.
In doing so, Turkey has forced Saudi Arabia to allow Turkish investigators accompanied by Saudi officials to enter the consulate and positioned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the kingdom’s saviour by engineering a situation that will allow the kingdom to craft a face-saving way out of the crisis.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering announcing that Mr. Khashoggi, a widely-acclaimed journalist critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who went into self-exile because he feared arrest, was killed in either a rogue operation or an attempt gone awry to forcibly repatriate it him back to the kingdom.
US President Donald J. Trump offered the Turks and Saudis a helping hand by referring this week to the possibility of Mr. Khashoggi having been killed by rogues and dispatching Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh and Ankara.
Mr. Khashoggi, seeking to obtain proof of his divorce in the kingdom so that he could marry his Turkish fiancé, visited the consulate two weeks ago for the second time after having allegedly received assurances that he would be safe.
Turkey emerges as the crisis moves towards a situation in which an official version is agreed that seeks to shield Prince Mohammed from being held responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and likely murder with its international status significantly enhanced.
Turkish leverage is further boosted by the fact that Saudi Arabia — its image in government, political and business circles significantly damaged by the crisis — and the Trump administration that wants to ensure that the kingdom’s ruling family emerges from the crisis as unscathed as possible, are in Ankara’s debt.
As a result, the denouement of the Khashoggi crisis is likely to alter the dynamics in the long-standing competition between Turkey and Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Islamic world.
It also strengthens Turkey’s position in its transactional alliance with Russia and Iran as they manoeuvre to end the war in Syria in a manner that cements Bashar al-Assad’s presidency while addressing Turkish concerns.
Turkey’s position in its rivalry with Saudi Arabia is likely to also benefit from the fact that whatever face-saving solution the kingdom adopts is likely to be flawed when tested by available facts and certain to be challenged by a host of critics, even if many will see Turkey as having facilitated a political solution rather than ensuring that the truth is established.
Already, Mr. Khashoggi’s family who was initially quoted by Saudi Arabia’s state-controlled media as backing Saudi denials of responsibility, insinuations that his fate was the product of a conspiracy by Qatar and/or Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, and casting doubt on the integrity of the journalist’s Turkish fiancée, has called for “the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death.”
Turkey and Saudi Arabia differ on multiple issues that divide the Muslim world. Turkey has vowed to help Iran circumvent Saudi-supported US sanctions imposed after Mr. Trump withdrew in May from the 2015 international agreement that curbed the Islamic republic’s nuclear agreement.
Turkey further backs Qatar in its dispute with a Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led alliance that has diplomatically and economically boycotted the Gulf state for the last 16 months. The credibility of the alliance’s allegation that Qatar supports terrorism and extremism has been dented by the growing conviction that Saudi Arabia, whether in a planned, rogue or repatriation effort gone wrong, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.
Mr. Khashoggi’s death, moreover, highlighted differing approaches towards the Brotherhood, one of the Middle East’s most persecuted, yet influential Islamist groupings. Saudi Arabia, alongside the UAE and Egypt, have designated the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Many brothers have sought refuge in Turkey with Mr. Erdogan empathetic and supportive of the group. A former brother, Mr. Khashoggi criticized Saudi repression of the group.
The Saudi-Turkish rivalry for leadership of the Muslim world was most evident in the two countries’ responses to Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his as yet unpublished plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Turkey emerged as the leader of Islamic denunciation of Mr. Trump’s move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognition of the city as Israel’s capital after Prince Mohammed tried to dampen opposition. Ultimately, King Salman was forced to step in a bid to clarify the kingdom’s position and counter Turkish moves.
No matter how Turkey decides to officially release whatever evidence it has, Saudi Arabia figures out how to respond and halt the haemorrhaging, and Mr. Pompeo holds talks with King Salman and Mr. Erdogan, Turkey is likely to emerge from the crisis strengthened despite its increasingly illiberal and increasingly authoritarian rule at home,
Turkey’s success is all the more remarkable given that it has neither Saudi Arabia’s financial muscle nor the mantle the kingdom adopts as the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.
A successful political resolution of the Khashoggi crisis is likely to earn it the gratitude of the Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, and its other detractors like the UAE who support the kingdom even if it may help it to regain popularity in the Arab world lost as a result of its swing towards authoritarianism, alliance with Iran and Qatar, and support for Islamism.
One immediate Turkish victory is likely to be Saudi acquiesce to Mr. Erdogan’s demand that Saudi Arabia drop its support for Kurdish rebels in Syria that Ankara sees as terrorists – a move that would boost Turkey’s position the Turkish-Russian-Iranian jockeying for influence in a post-war Syria. Turkey is also likely to see Saudi Arabia support it economically.
Turkey may, however, be playing for higher stakes.
Turkey “wants to back Saudi Arabia to the wall. (It wants to) disparage the ‘reformist’ image that Saudi Arabia has been constructing in the West” in a bid to get the US to choose Ankara as its primary ally in the Middle East, said international relations scholar Serhat Guvenc.
Turkey’s relations in recent years have soured as a result of Turkish insistence that the US is harbouring a terrorist by refusing to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the preacher it accuses of having engineered the failed 2016 coup; detaining American nationals and US consulate employees on allegedly trumped up charges, cosying up to Russia and purchasing its S-400 surface to air missile system, and aligning itself with Iran. Relations were further strained by US support for Syrian Kurds.
Mr. Trump, however this week heralded a new era in US-Turkish relations after the release of unsubscribeAndrew Brunson, an evangelist preacher who was imprisoned in Turkey for two years on charges of espionage.
Mr. Guvenc argued that Turkey hopes that Saudi Arabia’s battered image will help it persuade Mr. Trump that Turkey rather than the kingdom is its strongest and most reliable ally alongside Israel in the Middle East.
Said journalist Ferhat Unlu: “”Turkey knows how to manage diplomatic crises. Its strategy is to manage tensions to its advantage,”
MbS: Riding roughshod or playing a risky game of bluff poker?
A stalemate in efforts to determine what happened to Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is threatening to escalate into a crisis that could usher in a new era in relations between the United States and some of its closest Arab allies as well as in the region’s energy politics.
In response to US President Donald J. Trump’s threat of “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia is proven to have been responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance while visiting the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Arabia is threatening to potentially upset the region’s energy and security architecture.
A tweet by Saudi Arabia’s Washington embassy thanking the United States for not jumping to conclusions did little to offset the words of an unnamed Saudi official quoted by the state-run news agency stressing the kingdom’s “total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether through economic sanctions, political pressure or repeating false accusations.”
The official was referring to the kingdom’s insistence that it was not responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance and assertion that it is confronting a conspiracy by Qatar and/or Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The kingdom also affirms that if it is (targeted by) any action, it will respond with greater action,” the official said noting that Saudi Arabia “plays an effective and vital role in the world economy.”
Turki Aldhakhil, a close associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and general manager of the kingdom’s state-controlled Al Arabiya news network, claimed in an online article that Saudi leaders were discussing 30 ways of responding to possible US sanctions.
They allegedly included allowing oil prices to rise up to US$ 200 per barrel, which according to Mr. Aldhakhil, would lead to “the death” of the US economy, pricing Saudi oil in Chinese yuan instead of dollars, an end to intelligence sharing, and a military alliance with Russia that would involve a Russian military base in the kingdom.
It remains unclear whether Mr. Aldhakhil was reflecting serious discussions among secretive Saudi leaders or whether his article was intended either as a scare tactic or a trial balloon. Mr. Aldakhil’s claim that a Saudi response to Western sanctions could entail a reconciliation with the kingdom’s arch enemy, Iran, would make his assertion seem more like geopolitical and economic bluff.
Meanwhile, in what appeared to be a coordinated response aimed at demonstrating that Saudi Arabia was not isolated, Oman, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt rushed to express solidarity with the kingdom. Like Turkey, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE have a track record of suppressing independent journalism and freedom of the press.
Ironically, Turkey may be the kingdom’s best friend in the Khashoggi crisis if its claims to have incontrovertible proof of what happened in the consulate prove to be true. Turkey has so far refrained from making that evidence public, giving Saudi Arabia the opportunity to come up with a credible explanation.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip “Erdogan wants to give Saudis an exit out of #Khashoggi case, hoping the Saudi king/crown prince will blame ‘rogue elements’ for the alleged murder, then throwing someone important under the bus. This would let Erdogan walk away looking good & prevent rupture in Turkey-Saudi ties,” tweeted Turkey scholar Soner Cagaptay.
The Saudi news agency report and Mr. Aldakhil’s article suggest that Prince Mohammed believes that Saudi Arabia either retains the clout to impose its will on much of the international community or believes that it rather than its Western critics would emerge on top from any bruising confrontation.
Prince Mohammed no doubt is reinforced in his belief by Mr. Trump’s reluctance to include an arms embargo in his concept of severe punishment. He may also feel that Western support for the Saudi-UAE-led war in Yemen and reluctance to credibly take the kingdom to task for its conduct of the war was an indication that he was free to do as he pleased.
Prince Mohammed may have been further strengthened in his belief by the initial course of events 28 years ago, the last time that the fate of a journalist was at the centre of a crisis between a Western power and an Arab country.
At the time, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, similar to Mr. Trump’s inclination, refused to impose economic sanctions after Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered the arrest, torture and execution of Farhad Barzoft, a young London-based Iranian journalist who reported for The Observer.
Since declassified British government documents disclosed that Mrs. Thatcher’s government did not want to jeopardize commercial relations despite its view of the Iraqi government as a “ruthless and disagreeable regime.”
The comparison between the Khashoggi crisis and the case of Mr. Barzoft goes beyond Western governments’ reluctance to jeopardize commercial relationships.
Mr Barzoft was executed months before Mr. Hussein’s military invaded Kuwait prompting US-led military action that forced his troops to withdraw from the Gulf state, crippling economic sanctions, and ultimately the 2003 Gulf War that, no matter how ill-advised, led to the Iraqi leader’s downfall and ultimate execution.
Prince Mohammed’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen, of which Mr. Khashoggi was critical in one of his last Washington Post columns, has tarnished the kingdom’s international prestige and sparked calls in the US Congress and European parliaments for an embargo on arms sales that have gained momentum with the disappearance of the Saudi journalist.
To be sure Saudi Arabia enjoys greater leverage than Iraq did in 1990. By the same token, 2018 is not 1973, the first and only time the kingdom ever wielded oil as a weapon against the United States. At the time, the US was dependent on Middle Eastern oil, today it is one of, if not the world’s largest producer.
More fundamentally, Prince Mohammed appears to show some of the traits Mr. Hussein put on display, including a seeming lack of understanding of the limits of power and best ways to wield it, a tendency towards impetuousness, a willingness to take risks and gamble without having a credible exit strategy, a refusal to tolerate any form of criticism, and a streak of ruthlessness.
“We’re discovering what this ‘new king’ is all about, and it’s getting worrisome. The dark side is getting darker,” said David Ottaway, a journalist and scholar who has covered Saudi Arabia for decades.
Mr. Hussein was public and transparent about Mr. Barzoft’s fate even if his assertion that the journalist was a spy lacked credibility and the journalist’s confession and trial were a mockery of justice.
Prince Mohammed flatly denies any involvement in the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi and appears to believe that he can bully himself out of the crisis in the absence of any evidence that the journalist left the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate of his own volition.
Mr. Hussein miscalculated with his invasion of Kuwait shortly after getting away with the killing of Mr. Barzoft.
Prince Mohammed too may well have miscalculated if the kingdom is proven to be responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Mr. Hussein’s reputation and international goodwill was irreparably damaged by his execution of Mr. Barzoft and invasion of Kuwait.
Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance has dealt a body blow to Saudi Arabia’s prestige irrespective of whether the journalist emerges from the current crisis alive or dead.
King Salman and the kingdom appear for now to be rallying the wagons around the crown prince.
At the same time, the king has stepped into the fray publicly for the first time by phoning Turkish president Erdogan to reaffirm Saudi cooperation with an investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s fate.
It remains unclear whether that phone call will pave the way for Turkish investigators to enter the Istanbul consulate as well as the Saudi consul general’s home and whether they will be allowed to carry out forensics.
The longer the investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s fate stalls, the more Saudi Arabia will come under pressure to put forth a credible explanation and the harder Western leaders will be pressed by public opinion and lawmakers to take credible action if Saudi Arabia is proven to be responsible.
A Saudi decision to act on its threats to rejigger its security arrangements and energy policy, even if overstated by Mr. Aldhakhil, in response to steps by Western nations to penalize the kingdom, could prove to have not only far-reaching international consequences but, in the final analysis, also equally momentous domestic ones.
“Looks like #Saudi royal family is coming together to protect the family business. Eventually there will be internal reckoning with what transpired. Not now. Now is the time to save the family reign,” tweeted Middle East scholar Randa Slim.
Said former US State Department and White House official Elliott Abrams: “Jamal Khashoggi lost control of his fate when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Mohammed bin Salman must act quickly to regain control of his own.”
Syrian Kurds between Washington, Turkey and Damascus
The recent turmoil over Idlib has pushed the developments in Syrian Kurdistan out of political and mass media spotlight. However, it’s Idlib that will most likely host the final act of the drama, which has become known as the “civil war in Syria”.
The self-proclaimed Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), or Rojava, was formed in 2016, although de facto it has existed since 2012. Added later was the hydrocarbon-rich left bank of the Euphrates, which had been cleared of militants of ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), and now the jurisdiction of the unrecognized DFNS extends to almost a third of the country’s territory.
From the very start the main threat to the existence of this predominantly Kurdish quasi-state came for obvious reasons from Turkey, where Turkish Kurds were set on securing autonomy. In addition, the most influential political force in Rojava, the Democratic Union Party, is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and the latter has officially been declared a terrorist organization and unofficially – a number one enemy – in Turkey.
In January-March 2018, the Turkish army, backed by the Arab and Turkomanen allies, occupied part of the territory of Rojava (canton Afrin). And it looks like Ankara plans to settle on these territories: recently, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Afrin will be transferred to its residents “when the time comes” and that “this time will be set by us”. In the meantime, according to local media reports, the demographic situation in the canton is changing rapidly. Taking advantage of the fact that many Kurds left their homes at the approach of the Turkish army, the local (in fact, Turkish) administration is bringing in Arabs here, who, in many cases, are not Syrian Arabs.
Kurdish politicians, fully aware of the fact that amid Turkey, Iran and Syria maintaining statehood without outside assistance is hardly possible, opted for the patronage of Washington. And, as it seems, they lost.
In Syria, the Americans decided to replay the “Kosovo scenario”, by turning part of a sovereign state into a political structure, which is allied to them. Washington, which only recently excluded the People’s Protection Units (the armed wing of the Democratic Forces), from the list of terrorist organizations, argues, like Ankara, that its military personnel will remain in the region “for an indefinite period” to protect Kurdish territories from “aggression” on the part of Damascus. And from Ankara’s ambitions as well. But this is read between the lines.
All this enabled Turkey to accuse the United States of supporting terrorism and relations between the two countries quickly deteriorated into a crisis. As mutual accusations, occasionally supported by political and economic demarches, persist, the parties, however, are beginning to look for common ground. Talks on June 4, 2018 in Washington between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo resulted in a “road map” for the withdrawal of Kurdish forces from predominantly Arab Manbij, which Kurds regained control of from ISIL (an organization banned in Russia) two years ago. The next day, the Turkish minister announced that the Kurdish troops “… would retreat east of the Euphrates. However, this does not mean that we will agree that they stay there. ” On September 24, 2018, upon arriving at the UN General Assembly, Erdogan confirmed: Turkey will expand its sphere of influence in Syria, by including areas that are under control of the Kurdish armed units.
If Turkey does not change its rhetoric, then the assurances of the American authorities that the US troops will remain in Syria are intermingled with statements about the need for the withdrawal of its forces from this country. In any case, it is unlikely that the United States will choose to leave the region “to its own devices”. We can recall how Washington trumpeted the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan! But things haven’t budged an inch since then. The Afghanistan example demonstrates that the Americans will not move out of Syria that easily – they will not pull out in full, at least not of their own free will. US instructors and pilots will remain here “for an indefinite period.” But who will they care of and support? Here are the options:
Firstly, it could be a hypothetical “Arab NATO” with Saudi Arabia in the lead. But there are serious doubts as to the effectiveness of such a structure – even if we forget about the level of combat readiness of these kinds of coalitions (in Yemen, for example), Arab countries could unite only on an anti-Israeli platform. And that, as history shows, is unlikely to yield success. In addition to this, it is still unclear how Kurds, the majority of whom are not religious, will react to Wahhabi commanders.
Secondly, the United States could choose to strengthen the Arab sector of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (Rojava militia) at the expense of the Kurds. In mid-September, a number of media outlets, citing sources in the Syrian opposition, reported that Saudi emissaries had already suggested this option while meeting with leaders of the Arab tribes living east of the Euphrates. However, this development is also fraught with the Kurdish-Arab confrontation.
Thirdly, Washington persists in its attempts to improve relations with Turkey, distancing it from Russia and Iran, and instruct it to “maintain order” in the region: the Americans did not intervene in the Operation Olive Branch and made concessions on Manbij. Even though this might seem strange amid the hostile American-Turkish rhetoric, military and political contacts between Washington and Ankara have been on the rise in recent months. Moreover, President Erdogan has already stated that he believes in an early improvement of relations with the United States despite the “inconsistency” and “economic aggression” of Washington.
Meanwhile, we need to remember that the US control over Kurds is far from unlimited. The “people’s protection units” are ideologically close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or could even be seen as its “branch” in Syria), and the PKK itself, grown on the Marxist ideas, would normally support the Soviet Union and “by inertia” – Russia. For this reason, the Americans have to threaten the Kurdish allies with a cessation of military and financial support. Reports say the US and Turkish troops are already operating in the Manbij area, having dislodged the Kurdish YPG militia from the area.
These threats, along with the self-withdrawal of the United States during the capture of Afrin by Turkish troops, have made Kurds doubt the reliability of their patron. The result is a move towards rapprochement with Damascus. In late July, the Kurdish leadership announced an agreement with the Syrian authorities on the creation of a “road map” for the formation of a decentralized Syria.
The Americans are not sitting idle either, though it looks like they have no concrete plan of action. Such a conclusion comes from Donald Trump’s somewhat incoherent answers to questions from a correspondent of the Kurdish media group Rudaw (09/27/2018):
Question: What are you planning to do for (Syrian – AI) Kurds?
Answer: We will offer them a lot of help. As you know, we are good friends to them, we fought shoulder to shoulder with ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation), we recently defeated ISIL (an organization banned in the Russian Federation). We accomplished this with the support of the Kurds. They are great warriors. You know, some nations are great warriors, and some are not. The Kurds are great warriors, they are a wonderful people. We are currently negotiating this.
Question: So what will you do to support them?
Answer: As I said, we will negotiate this, we have begun negotiations. The Kurds have helped us a lot to crush ISIS (an organization banned in the Russian Federation).
Most likely, the hot phase of the protracted inter-Syrian conflict is nearing its end, and the preferences of the Kurds will determine the outcome of future elections, a referendum, or another form of will expression of the Syrian people, when the political situation allows it. Moscow has always called for involving Kurds in the negotiation process and on ensuring their full participation in the life of post-war Syria. “Russia insists that Kurds should participate in the process to determine the post-conflict future of Syria on a parity basis with other ethnic and religious groups of this country,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama.
Until recently, Damascus did not particularly pedal negotiations with Rojava, but being aware that the capture of Afrin by Turkish troops was not in its interests, it has adjusted its approach to the self-proclaimed territorial entity. It looks like Syrian leaders have opted for softening their stance, which was previously set on the revival of the country on the basis of unitarism. Otherwise, an agreement with the Kurds will be nowhere in sight.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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