In addition to the United States and Qatar’s active development of relations and cooperation, observers’ attention is drawn to the growing ties between Qatar and Turkey, which are perceived ambiguously in the region.
Today, Turkey and Qatar are militarily, intellectually and ideologically intertwined. A security cooperation agreement signed in 2014 led to a Turkish military presence in the Middle East, more specifically, south of Doha.
An important factor in strengthening Turkey’s relations with Qatar in recent years was, of course, the Ankara’s position in June 2017, after the decision of six Arab states (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Yemen and Libya) to sever diplomatic relations with Doha. Then the so-called “Arab quartet” imposed sanctions and established a transport blockade against Qatar, claiming that Qatar supports terrorist groups operating in the Middle East region, as well as contributes to the spread of extremist ideology, and interferes in the internal affairs of the states of the region. However, Turkish President Recep Erdogan prevented Arab troops invading the emirate by openly intervening in the conflict between Doha and the rest of the Arab world and sending troops to Qatar under the pretext of anti-terrorist exercises. As a result, Recep Erdogan managed to collect the majority of the political good will, proving himself a reliable ally of Qatar.
In addition to the similarity of relations between Ankara and Doha in the use of Islamist organizations for their own political purposes and actions in the region, in particular, the likes of Muslim Brotherhood (banned in Russia), the strengthening of cooperation between these two countries was facilitated by the coincidence of their views on events in Libya and in the confrontation with the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the leadership of General Haftar. Qatar’s role in overthrowing Libyan leader Gaddafi is not easily overstated, since the emir put every bit of his resources towards achieving this. For it was Qatar that became the first Arab state to recognize the National Transitional Council of Libya and one of the main initiators of military operations in Libya. In March 2011, the emir sent 6 Mirage aircraft to join the NATO campaign, while in order to bypass the sanctions and provide the rebels with diesel and gas, Qatar helped the opposition sell oil drawn on the territory reclaimed from Gaddafi. In addition, it was the Qatar special forces that were training the rebels in the Nafusa mountains, and during the final assault on Gaddafi’s residence, Qatar special forces were seen fighting on the side of the so-called “revolutionaries”.
Qatar remains active in the current events in Libya, along with Ankara, trying to prevent the LNA and personally H. Haftar from strengthening positions in the country. This is evidenced by the attempts of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization controlled by Qatar (banned in Russia) to disrupt negotiations on resolving the Libyan crisis, which were recently held in Berlin and in which Qatar and Turkey were clearly not interested. Doha’s close ties with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) are also evidenced by the recently submitted documents by the official representative of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Ahmad al-Mismari, which confirmed that members of the group from the leading structures of the GNA are cooperating with Qatar secret services.
But not only the commonality of positions on Libya unites Ankara and Doha today. This was demonstrated by the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Doha on October 8 and his negotiations with the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The membership of a high-ranking Turkish delegation, which included Minister of Treasury and Finance, Berat Albayrak, Minister of Youth and Sports Mehmet Kasapoglu, Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar, Head of the National Intelligence Service Hakan Fidan, Head of the Presidential Administration’s Liaison Office Fahrettin Altun and Presidential Press Secretary Ibrahim Kalin speaks in itself about the theme and direction of negotiations on the further development of bilateral cooperation.
In 2015, the Tarek bin Ziyad Turkish military base was established on the territory of Qatar, where ground forces and the air force are located. Overall there are roughly three thousand Turkish soldiers in the base. According to media reports, Ankara is currently completing the construction of a second military base in Qatar, after which the number of Turkish troops in Qatar will “significantly increase.” Right now, the two governments regularly conduct join maneuvers. Back in November 2019, during his visit to Qatar, President Recep Erdogan said, as reported by Anadolu, that the security of Qatar is no less important for Ankara than the protection of the interests of Turkey itself.
October 8, 2020 saw the launch, at the Turkish private shipyard Anadolu Deniz İnşaat Kızakları San. ve Tic. A.Ş., located in Tuzla on the southern outskirts of the Asian part of Istanbul, of the lead ship under construction for the Qatar Navy in a series of two units of the QTS 91 Al-Doha training ship. The ceremony was attended by Defense Ministers of Turkey and Qatar, Hulusi Akar and Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah respectively, as well as the head of the Turkish Defense Industry Directorate (SSB) Ismail Demir. Although the ship is intended for training purposes, it can also be used for patrolling and naval support operations, according to the Qatar Ministry of Defense, and it is one of two ships for which a contract was signed in 2018 between Qatar and Turkey.
Assessing the development of military cooperation between Turkey and Qatar, the UAE Minister for International Affairs A. Gargash believes, as Reuters reported on October 11, that the Turkish military base in Qatar is a so-called “destabilizing element” in the Gulf region, as Ankara’s military presence in the region contributes to its polarization
Along with the aspects noted above, political cooperation between Doha and Ankara has recently become increasingly important for Middle East and Muslim countries. In addition to their joint actions in promoting color revolutions in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, one must not forget the Iraqi factor, as Qatar, with it’s colossal political ambitions and the desire to increase its influence in Sunni circles across Iraq, would benefit from using Turkey regarding this country.
In addition, Ankara and Qatar, along with Islamabad and Kuala Lumpur as partners, recently presented a new emerging power chain, built around a shared focus on conservative Sunni political Islam. Their enemies are India, Israel and (on a rhetorical level) the Christian West. The crystallization of the new alliance became evident in late September 2019, when Erdogan, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met at the 74th UN General Assembly in New York and agreed to create an English-language TV channel to combat Islamophobia in the West. This alliance now being formed between Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia and Qatar has both strategic and ideological meaning from the point of view of its members, reflecting the current reorientation in Asia in the wake of the retreating post-Cold War hegemony of the United States. These countries share a similar basic worldview and have common adversaries.
Vladimir Platov, an expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.