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Military Cooperation

With their interests and values aligned, the Turkish-Qatari partnership entered a new phase in December 2014 with the signing of a comprehensive military agreement.198 The deal, which came into effect the day after Turkey’s national elections on June 7, 2015, allowed Turkish troops back into Qatar on the centennial of their departure from the peninsula at the close of the Ottoman era.199 The agreement paved the way for Turkey to set up a military base – its first anywhere overseas – in Qatar in April 2016 and for Turkish and Qatari forces to conduct joint military exercises.200 Turkish officials stated that the base would help the two countries confront “common enemies.”201

Turkey and Qatar have an asymmetric security arrangement; the former, after all, has nearly three times the number of military personnel as the latter has citizens.202 Qatar, therefore, is the primary beneficiary of the budding partnership, using Turkish troops as a deterrent against regional threats.203

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The Tariq bin Ziyad base in southern Doha has a total capacity of 3,000 troops. Turkey initially deployed a force of 130 to the base, falling to 94 as of June 2017.204 After the Gulf blockade began, the Turkish government not only rejected a call from the Arab quartet to shut down its military base in Qatar – one of the 13 formal demands they made205 – but fast-tracked legislation within two days to deploy additional troops.206

On July 31, 2017, a Turkish frigate carrying 214 sailors arrived in Hamad Port for two days of naval exercises with the Qatari navy.207 The exercise, codenamed “Rapid Response,” included “combat maritime maneuvers.”208 A Turkish force consisting of 30 armored vehicles and 250 soldiers also held joint military exercises with Qatar’s armed forces to prepare for the defense of “vital economic, strategic and infrastructure facilities.”209 Qatar’s Al-Jazeera claimed that Turkey sent additional troops in December 2017 and plans to increase its total deployment to 3,000 personnel.210

Military ties continue to expand. In March 2018, Qatar and Turkey held joint military exercises dubbed “Lion’s Den,” which included drills to “fight against psychological warfare and to activate the role of the press.”211 In April 2019, Qatar and Turkey kicked off a week-long joint air drill in Doha.212

Another landmark in Turkish-Qatari defense cooperation was Erdogan’s decision in December 2018 to give the Turkish-Qatari vehicle producer BMC the right to operate Turkey’s national tank factory for 25 years, a move that generated controversy in Ankara. The Qatari government owns 49.9 percent of BMC.213 The factory, worth $20 billion, will produce Turkey’s new Altay tanks, which led opposition politicians to question whether it is in Turkey’s security interests to let a foreign-backed firm participate in a major Turkish defense project.214

Meanwhile, Ankara and Doha are also developing defense links with Russia. Both Turkey and Qatar are in the process of procuring the Russian S-400 air defense system, which violates U.S. restrictions. Turkey received its first S-400 battery in July 2019 and its second in September 2019.215 In response, the United States removed Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington is “looking at” sanctioning Turkey for its S-400 purchase.216 Qatar is also in talks with Russia for the acquisition of the S-400 system,217 a situation Washington says it is monitoring.218

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