Given that Saudi Arabia is Iran’s main regional rival, Iranian censors have allowed the Iranian media to extensively cover the disappearance and possible murder of The Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
In addition to daily headlines about the missing journalist, the focus has also been on possible tensions between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. While Aftab News covered the Khashoggi case with the headline “Tensions between Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” the article itself did not dive deep into the possible dimensions of the conflict. It noted instead that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was demanding proof of Khashoggi’s exit from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The website Tabnak's headline read “Saudi denies Turkish forces entry into the home of Saudi general consul.” Iranian Students’ News Agency chose the headline “Erdogan: Saudi explanations regarding Khashoggi case are not satisfactory.” IRIB news featured statements by Republican People's Party opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in their headline: “The Turkish government must reconsider ties with Saudi Arabia.”
Student News Network translated an article by Agence France-Press headlined “The disappearance of Khashoggi will result in tensions between Saudi [Arabia] and Turkey.” The article highlighted that the two countries remain on opposite sides regarding a number of regional issues, including the Saudi-led blockage of Qatar, Saudi [Arabia's] anti-Muslim Brotherhood position and [its] policies toward Iran. The article wrote that if it is proven that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, “extensive consequences” for Riyadh-Ankara relations would follow.
A rift between Saudi Arabia and Turkey could be welcome news to the Iranian government. While Iran and Turkey disagree on a number of regional developments, particularly on the Syrian civil war in which they are backing opposing sides, the two countries have deep economic ties. Any conflict between Saudi Arabia and Turkey could allow Ankara-Tehran ties to deepen further while simultaneously isolating Saudi Arabia, Iran’s rival.
Despite the intensity with which the Iranian media has covered the Khashoggi case, more seasoned analysts have attempted to offer a more nuanced perspective. Sadegh Maleki wrote in IR Diplomacy that Turkey has more concerns regarding the Khashoggi case due to Khashoggi's ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Maleki warned that “Iran must not follow Turkish authorities and media in creating a heightened atmosphere.” He also noted the hypocrisy of the outrage, given that the Turkish government themselves are “experts” in eliminating their political and security opposition.
Maleki wrote that killing opposition figures is condemnable, but that “in the Middle East in particular it is a matter of historical fact and will always be so.” While Maleki did not address this, Iran itself is no stranger to assassination campaigns abroad throughout the 1980s and 1990s — a point never mentioned by domestic media in their coverage of the Khashoggi case.
Maleki added that rather than genuinely mourning the likely death of a well-known journalist, governments are using his murder to “concede concessions from one another over a bitter event.” The Khashoggi case, Maleki wrote, will eventually leave headlines and no longer be at the top of the news, but the problems between Iran and Saudi will remain. He added that rather than sit back and issue “prescriptions” for one another, they should spend more time correcting their own behaviors before it is too late.
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