Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, June 13, 2017. .
(photo credit: KAYHAN OZER/PRESIDENTIAL PALACE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Twenty-five years ago, Prof. Francis Fukuyama published a book called, The End of History and the Last Man. This was a period when barriers separating east from west began to fall, including the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union collapsed and Russia experienced intense dramas. The general feeling was that life would calm down and that everything was in its place. This, of course, was just an illusion. Now, 25 years later, hostilities between east and west are once again intensifying – just this past week US President Donald Trump announced that the United States was leaving the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. History has not stopped recording new incidents, of course.
This thought came to mind this past week in light of the global crisis that erupted following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This affair has many aspects that deserve appreciation and reflection, the main one being the collapse of old-style diplomacy, and the rise of public diplomacy. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can teach the entire world – including public diplomacy wizard Trump – the art of manipulation and how to shake up the world by using public diplomacy.
Erdogan slowly squeezed every drop of juice out of this affair as if it were a ripe, juicy lemon. Let us not be naïve – many people have been murdered or disappeared around the world over the years, and Israel, too, has been accused of involvement in assassinations far from home. One of the most memorable incidents was the Al-Mabhouh debacle which took place in Dubai in 2010. The jaw-dropping video of the affair was viewed around the world, which the authorities in Dubai claimed was proof of the Israeli connection to the spectacular incident.
This affair is strangely similar to that of Khashoggi, except that in the former case, there was no hard evidence connecting Israel to the incident, except through assumption and probability. Israel, of course, never admitted to its involvement and the case soon faded from the public sphere. In the Khashoggi affair, however, Erdogan has shrewdly exploited the videos and other evidence, some of which has been made public and some which has not, in order to crucify Saudi Arabia in the public square.
While the Americans are engaging in quiet diplomacy by sending US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to Saudi Arabia and CIA Director Gina Haspel to Turkey to douse the flames and establish a clandestine line of communication between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Erdogan has done the exact opposite. Erdogan, who throughout his entire political career has taken great efforts to suppress social networks and freedom of the mass media, has now become its most enthusiastic proponent. Day after day, Turkey has been intelligently and craftily releasing bits of information to the media. In this way, they’ve managed to slowly build up a story that has effectively influenced public opinion.
Trump, who speculated at first that rogue killers in Saudi Arabia may have been responsible for the murder, has had to retract his position and to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia. The Saudi royal family has tried as much as possible to protect the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, hoping to avoid the question of whether he can continue to lead the country or will have to step aside.
Erdogan did not reveal all of his cards at once. He’s been building up a drama with lots of suspense by letting the Saudis get themselves tangled up among themselves, just like a police investigator sits quietly and lets a suspect squirm and reveal information that contradicts his previous statements.
The Khashoggi affair has the necessary components to turn it into an international saga: Khashoggi is a well-known journalist with American citizenship, who regularly publishes material in the international press. He grew up among the Saudi elite, but has been overtly critical of the royal family. All of this should have been a source of protection for him, but obviously it’s not a good idea to get on the bad side of these people.
SAUDI ARABIA messed up big time. Their plan of action ended in utter failure. Instead of carrying out a quick and successful operation (disregarding the moral aspects, of course) its operatives were sloppy and left behind definitive and absolute proof of their connection to the incident. Turkey realized that they’d just been handed a vast treasure on a platter, and they were able to capitalize on this to achieve a great milestone in the world of public diplomacy. Instead of engaging in secret communications with the US and Saudi Arabia to put out the fire, Erdogan chose to speak out publicly and engage in overt and open diplomacy. In this way, of course, he was able to improve his own personal and public image, which is constantly fluctuating depending on the decisions he makes regarding domestic and foreign policy.
Suddenly, here is Turkey, a country that’s known to engage in human rights violations, arrest citizens for long periods, use inappropriate force against its own Kurdish population, restrict freedom of speech and press. And now all of a sudden Turkey appears to be the model of ethical and moral conduct that is fighting for transparency and to make the world a better place.
All of this is also extremely significant vis-a-vis Israel. We also carry out complex operations outside of our borders from time to time, and for the most part we’ve succeeded in blocking reports of them in the media when our operatives fail. The Mossad has always managed to recover quickly, eliminate all the evidence, and bring its operatives safely back to Israel, such as the incidents that took place in Cyprus and Switzerland.
The media has also treated us with kid gloves. As soon as the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Jordan was reported in the media, Israel acted quickly and brought its staff back home until the level of anger was contained. The Mossad and other international security agencies must learn the new rules of engagement, especially that technologies have improved and it’s extremely difficult nowadays to get in and out of countries without being caught on one of tens of thousands of cameras that are watching our every move.
And so, although the traditional world of diplomacy still exists, with its ambassadors, embassies and diplomatic representatives, this new form of public diplomacy is slowly eroding away at the old form. Leaders like Trump, Erdogan and even Netanyahu, are tending to put aside secret diplomacy and in its place engage in open public diplomacy. They are using the mass media and social networks to their advantage in order to achieve their goals.
So, does this mean diplomacy is dead? Maybe not, but change is certainly in the air.The writer is an MK from the Zionist Camp, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and chairman of the Lobby for Strengthening the Jewish People and US-Israeli relations.