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Turkey and Qatar are fully brothers in arms. Both states share an affinity for Islamism that shapes their regional engagement. Fueled by shared ideological commitments, Turkish-Qatari cooperation extends into a variety of sectors, including defense, banking, media, and energy, and is likely to increase as their partnership deepens.


Brothers In Arms  

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The Consolidation Of The Turkey And Qatar Axis

Authors Aykan Erdemir & Varsha Koduvayur

Introduction

On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, enacting a land, sea, and air blockade. Qatar’s neighbors charged the country with supporting terrorists, collaborating with Iran, and sowing the seeds of chaos around the Middle East. The sudden move closed Qatar’s only road link to foreign markets, through which it received nearly 40 percent of its food requirements. Qatari residents panicked, picking clean supermarket shelves.1 But the panic subsided less than 48 hours later, as Turkey began sending cargo planes with food and other goods.2

Turkey’s assistance was not simply a humanitarian gesture. Rather, it was the most visible sign of Ankara and Doha’s strategic convergence. This was also evident when Qatar was one of the few actors, alongside Hamas and Pakistan, that supported Turkey’s cross-border operation into northeast Syria in October 2019.3

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Diplomatic relations between the emirate of Qatar and the Republic of Turkey go back almost 50 years but picked up steam only after the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Ankara in 2002.4 During the first decade of AKP rule, the two countries held more than 70 high-level bilateral meetings.5 Qatar remains the most popular destination for Turkish diplomatic missions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alone made seven visits as prime minister and made it a priority to visit Doha upon assuming the presidency in 2014.6

Turkey and Qatar are fully brothers in arms. Both states share an affinity for Islamism that shapes their regional engagement. Fueled by shared ideological commitments, Turkish-Qatari cooperation extends into a variety of sectors, including defense, banking, media, and energy, and is likely to increase as their partnership deepens.

The Turkish-Qatari axis represents a challenge for the United States and its partners because Ankara and Doha pursue not only legitimate forms of cooperation but also joint ventures in illicit finance, support for Islamist insurgents abroad, promotion of extremist ideologies, and harboring terrorists associated with Hamas and al-Qaeda. These actions are especially disconcerting because both Turkey and Qatar are also important partners of the United States. Turkey, a NATO member for over 60 years, hosts the Incirlik airbase, home to the U.S. Air Force 39th Air Base Wing and American theater nuclear weapons.7 Qatar’s Al-Udeid Air Base, meanwhile, is the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations throughout the Middle East.8

Washington has failed to hold these two countries to account over the years. The United States should have long ago explored alternative sites for the U.S. military facilities hosted by Qatar and Turkey. Such a study is still needed. For now, however, the United States should be prepared to welcome Turkey and Qatar back into the fold if they turn back decisively from their reckless path. But a combination of inducements and disincentives is needed if this is to happen.

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