Turkey-Qatar military cooperation could stabilize the region

This is Erdogan's second visit to the Qatar since the start of the Gulf crisis [Reuters]

The deepening cooperation between strategic allies Turkey and Qatar has long drawn scrutiny from opposition parties in Ankara, and an accord published in the nation’s Official Gazette on June 24 stirred fresh controversy after its contents were misrepresented in local media reports.

Titled the Turkey-Qatar Military Health Education and Cooperation Protocol, the agreement establishes opportunities for both Turkish and Qatari military students to pursue diplomas from university programs involving dentistry, pharmaceutical and other health-related studies.

The mutual exchange program will run for five years, though some initial media reports claimed the accord would allow Qatari students to enter Turkish institutions without taking the normally required entrance exams.

Mutual Benefits

Critics have long condemned the Turkish leader’s relations with the ideologically aligned Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. In a November 2020 joint meeting in Ankara, the pair signed 10 deals that saw the Qatar Investment Authority purchase a 10% stake in Turkey’s main stock exchange, as well as agreements to transfer shares of a luxury shopping mall in Istanbul and a port in Turkey’s Mediterranean city of Antalya, among other accords.

This came in addition to a $15 billion swap agreement between Turkey and Qatar, which could be expanded in the coming weeks as the Turkish Central Bank is currently pursuing new credit lines.

Such accords have helped the two governments support one another through periods of political isolation, such as with the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar, and bolstered cooperation in various fields.

Military Exercises

On June 21, Turkey began hosting its annual Anatolian Eagle air force exercise in Konya with the participation of Azerbaijani, Pakistani, Qatari and NATO elements. The training activities this year came amid unconfirmed reports Turkish personnel are preparing to train Qatari fighter jet pilots. Details of the pilot training agreement remain murky and again reflect bias in opposition media outlets coverage of Turkey-Qatar relations.

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Since 2015, Turkish forces have been active at the Tariq bin Ziyad military base outside Doha and have expanded their presence there over the years.

Yalcinkaya said that in recent years, Turkey’s armed forces have expanded military capacity-building programs and, through them, bolstered foreign relations with partner nations such as Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Somalia, and NATO-allies including Bulgaria and Romania.

Qatar will be able to temporarily deploy 36 fighter jets and 250 military personnel to Turkey for training purposes, according to a technical deal introduced to the Turkish parliament last June.

In recent years, Turkey and Qatar have forged a regional alliance extending from Libya to Syria. Ankara effectively prevented a 2017 palace coup in Doha instigated by Saudi Arabia’s leadership by opening a Turkish military base and deploying soldiers there. Qatar meanwhile owns shares in Turkish defence companies and has investments in Turkey ranging from entertainment to real estate worth billions of dollars.

In this case, a Greek news site has claimed that Turkey decided to host the Qataris in order to inspect the latter’s French-made Rafale jets, which Turkey doesn’t have at its disposal. Greece ordered 18 Rafale jets from France in a bid to establish air superiority against Ankara earlier this year.

Turkey is also major drone exporting nations in the Middle East supplying Karayel tactical UAV to Saudi Arabia and Bayraktar TB2 to Qatar.

Haldun Yalcinkaya, a professor of international security studies at Ankara’s TOBB University of Economics and Technology, said Turkey-Qatar military cooperation is part of a broader foreign policy agenda pursued by Ankara in which Turkish armed forces have run training programs with about 30 nations.

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