This month, a new Turkish military base is to be inaugurated in Qatar by the leaders of the two countries, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. This is the second Turkish base to be built in Qatar; the first, in the Al-Rayyan area, was opened in 2015. The opening of the new base is yet another manifestation of the strategic alliance that has grown between the two counties over the last 20 years.
This alliance is rooted in political, economic and military interests: Turkey wishes to gain a military foothold in the Gulf, as part of its deployment in a range of regional Muslim countries, including Libya, Sudan and Somalia, and in the context of its efforts to regain the hegemony it enjoyed until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1924. The bases in Qatar are part of these efforts.
Regardless of the number of troops they currently house, these bases are of immense strategic importance. Qatar holds the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves, thus Turkey’s military presence in Qatar enables it to become a major player in the global energy market and also to advance its own economy in various ways. Qatar’s arms deals with Turkey’s military industry and its investments in this industry likewise enrich Turkey’s coffers.
Furthermore, Qatar has extended financial aid to Turkey in times of crisis; in 2018, for example, it provided Turkey with $18 billion in aid ($15 billion in direct aid and a $3 billion line of credit), to counter U.S. sanctions. A Turkish presence in the Gulf may also grant it extensive influence over Qatar’s relations with its Gulf neighbors, namely the Arab Gulf states and Iran.
The strategic importance of the Turkish base in Qatar is emphasized in the Turkish media. An article in the Turkish daily Hurriyet, for example, stated that “Turkey’s permanent military base in Qatar has significance far beyond the bilateral relations of the countries.” Many Turkish media outlets also referred to the establishment of a “Turkish Triangle,” comprising the Turkish base in Qatar, the Anatolia Barracks in Somalia and the planned Turkish military base on Suakin Island in Sudan.
As for Qatar, the Turkish military presence helps it to defend its borders and also to shield the Al Thani dynasty from domestic unrest. It also furthers the dynasty’s ambitions to position Qatar as a leading power in the Arab and Muslim world—a position it can fill despite the small number of its citizens (350,000) thanks to its extensive economic resources, and also thanks to the presence of 11,000 U.S. troops at the Al Udeid base on its soil. Turkey’s military presence enhances this clout even further.
Qatar and Turkey also have in common their support for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) organization, and both shelter its ideologues and activists. However, while the Turkish support of this organization stems from a deep-rooted religious ideology and from the ruling party’s affiliation with the Brotherhood, Qatar’s pro-Brotherhood policy stems from considerations of expediency. In fact, Qatar aids various Islamist organizations—not only the Brotherhood but also the Taliban and Al Qaeda—as a tool to threaten with terrorism anyone who poses a danger to the Qatari regime.
The political and strategic alliance between Turkey and Qatar has a variety of aspects, including comprehensive political coordination, significant economic aid extended by Qatar to Turkey, and significant military aid extended by Turkey to Qatar, boosting the latter’s land, sea and air military capabilities.
The military cooperation between the two countries includes the building of the Turkish military bases in Qatar; the holding of joint training and exercises; frequent coordination meetings between the Qatari and Turkish defense ministers and chiefs-of-staff; Qatari purchase of Turkish arms and military gear, as well as joint development projects with Turkey’s military industry, and recently even cooperation in securing the World Cup games, to be held in Doha in 2022.
The alliance between the two countries is expressed in a long series of agreements that they have signed in multiple fields, especially in the security and military fields—agreements that have brought the cooperation between them to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership. Already in December 2001, the two countries signed a security cooperation agreement for fighting drug trafficking, terrorism and money laundering.
In May 2007 a military cooperation agreement was signed, for tightening the cooperation between them in the fields of military training, defense industry, joint exercises and exchange of military information; and in July 2012 the two countries signed another agreement on military training cooperation, as well as a memorandum of understandings on defense industry cooperation.
The alliance grew further in December 2014, when Erdoğan and Al Thani signed two further significant documents: an agreement establishing a High Strategic Committee to ensure the cooperation between the countries, and a defense agreement on continued military cooperation that calls, inter alia, for the deployment of Turkish armed forces in Qatar and for the training of Qatari troops by the Turkish military.
The latter agreement, which permits Turkey “to use [Qatar’s] ports/airports/airspace and to benefit from its facilities, camps, units, institutions and military facilities,” was signed amid the intense tension between Qatar and its neighbors in the Gulf—Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain—which were at loggerheads with Qatar over various issues, especially its support of the Brotherhood and Iran. Turkish forces were first deployed to Qatar on the strength of this agreement in 2015, when a unit of Turkish troops, equipped with armored vehicles, arrived at the Al-Rayyan base south of Doha. They were later joined by additional troops, who arrived in several pulses.
In April 2016 the two countries signed another agreement, specifically on the deployment of Turkish armed forces in Qatar, under which a base was constructed for the Turkish troops in the country. The agreement was ratified by the Turkish Parliament on June 7, 2017, in response to an urgent request by the government, following the escalation of Qatar’s conflict with its Gulf neighbors and Egypt.
It should be mentioned that the Turkish military presence in the Gulf gravely concerns Qatar’s neighbors, which fear a Qatari and Turkish intervention in their internal affairs in an attempt to destabilize them. For this reason, the 13 conditions presented by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt for lifting the sanctions on Qatar included a demand to close the Turkish base there and end the Qatari-Turkish cooperation. Qatar, for its part, not only refused to comply with this demand, but promoted the building of the second Turkish base in its territory. Moreover, in March 2018, the Qatari military’s Special Joint Forces contracted the Turkish MDS company to build the Burouj naval base in northern Qatar.
Although the Turkish and Qatari officials and media have refrained from disclosing the exact number of Turkish troops stationed in Qatar, they are believed to number several hundred at present. However, according to Turkish sources, their numbers are expected to grow after the inauguration of the new base, and may reach 3,000-5,000 troops, if needed. The training of Qatari forces by members of the Turkish military, most of them designated as “advisers,” and Qatar’s large-scale arms purchases from the Turkish military industry, may boost the capabilities and performance of the Qatari armed forces and even influence their military doctrine.
This report reviews the manifestations of the strategic cooperation between Qatar and Turkey, especially in the military domain.
The full report is available at the MEMRI website.
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