Last December, Turkey announced the forthcoming establishment of a military base in Qatar. This strategic development has been underway for some time. However, it gained momentum only in 2015.
The last Turkish troops – back then, Ottoman troops – left the territory of modern Qatar more than a century ago, on August 19, 1915. In 2007, the two countries signed a defence industry cooperation agreement. Five years later, in 2012, they also signed a military training cooperation agreement.
In December 2015, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Haman al–Thani, went on official visit in Turkey. One of his aims was indeed to widen the perspectives of the security and defence cooperation between Ankara and Doha. The talks resumed on a second visit, in March 2015. Thereupon, between the 22nd and the 27th of March, the Turskish Parliament and Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ratified the agreement.
The pact allows for the two countries’ troops to be deployed on each other’s territory and binds the signatories to strengthen cooperation on intelligence. According to the agreement, 3,000 Turkish soldiers will be stationed in Qatar – supported by Special Forces, and air and naval units – to carry out joint military exercises.
What drove these two countries to establish such a strategic relationship?
Qatar probably need to ensure that Turkey will come to its defence in case of external threats – this clause doesn’t officially appear on the agreement, yet it could be an item kept from the public, according to French ‘Intelligence Online’. Qatar, like the rest of the Gulf, is worried about a series of circumstances that may change the geo-strategic scenario in the region. First, the thawing of relations between Iran and the rest of the world – in particular, the United States – which allows for the Islamic Republic to extend its influence over the region. (This is certainly the Gulf kingdoms’ worst nightmare.)
The Gulf States seem to believe that Obama’s United States have lost interest in the Middle East; they believe that the so-called ‘pivot to Asia’ is the forerunner of America’s disengagement from the region. This is certainly a misconception, given the United States’ massive military presence in the Middle East. In Qatar alone, there are around 10,000 American troops. Al–Udeid air–base is the largest base in the whole region. (It is unclear whether the construction of the American base was actually funded by Qatar.)
Nonetheless, Qatar seems eager to diversify its allies, and to tie itself to someone capable of and willing to provide the military power that it lacks. Furthermore, Ankara might be the means to further cooperative relations with NATO.
Ankara and Doha are not at all unlikely allies. They share similar political perspectives. Both supported former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi – a Muslim Brotherhood leader – antagonising Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both hostile to the Islamist movement. (Saudi Arabia’s stance on the Muslim Brotherhood softened after the crowning of King Salman, who reconsidered his kingdom’s political and strategic positions.)
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