Last year when the Turkish lira crisis hit the headlines and whilst Erdogan and Trump play out a diplomatic war of words, the Turkish lira improved from record lows after Qatar’s Sheikh – Thamim bin Hamad Al Thani – said Qatar was standing by it’s “brothers in Turkey,” as he announced a $15bn investment into the country’s financial markets and banks.
Qatar and Turkey are bound by strategic relations at the political, economic and military levels. In 2015, Qatar and Turkey established the Supreme Strategic Committee to look after and enhance the relationship.
Militarily, two days after the start of the Gulf crisis, Turkey’s parliament ratified two agreements allowing Turkish troops to be deployed in Qatar and another approving an accord between the two countries on military training cooperation.
The agreements aimed to raise Qatar’s defence capabilities and maintain security and stability in the region and the first batch of Turkish troops arrived at the Tariq ibn Ziyad military base in 2015.
On June, 2017, five armoured vehicles also arrived in Doha while the base can accommodate up to 5,000 soldiers. Then in January 2018, the Turkish ambassador to Qatar said that Turkey will also deploy air and naval forces in Qatar.
The blockading countries led by Saudi Arabia have set the closure of the Turkish base in Qatar as one of 13 conditions to restore relations with Doha.
When the Gulf crisis erupted, and Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land border, it blocked many vital imports from reaching Qatar, including basic food supplies. To avoid potential food shortages, in less than 48 hours of the blockade Turkey sent cargo planes full of milk, yogurt, and poultry.
Turkish exports to Qatar increased by 90 percent in the four months since the blockade started but because of longer import routes, Qatari food and beverage prices jumped 4.2 percent in August.
Turkish ambassador to Qatar, Fikret Ozer, said “We are bringing many products here, but there is no land route between Turkey and Qatar. But now there is a cooperation between Qatar and Iran and Turkey, and there will be a new route between these countries.”
Qatar has invested $444m in a 530,000sq metre food storage and processing facility at its Hamad Port. hopes its improved trade relations with Qatar will outlive the blockade. “The Turkish products [we export] are of very high quality. Even if the embargo [on Qatar] is [lifted], our products will be permanent there,” said Sinan Kiziltan, chairman of the Aegean Aquatic Products and the Animal Products Exporters’ Union.
Even before the blockade, Qatar had a lot of trust in the Turkish economy. In May, Qatar’s Chamber of Commerce Vice Chairman Mohamed bin Twar said: “Turkish companies here are handling projects worth about $11.6bn in Qatar, most of which is put into FIFA World Cup 2022 projects.”
“Qatar’s investment to Turkey is over $20bn, the second highest value of investments by any country in Turkey,” bin Twar added.
Turkish media reported Qatar would invest a further $19bn in Turkey in 2018, with $650m going to agriculture and livestock.
“Due to its attractive investment advantages as well as its strong relations with Qatar,” the Qatar Chamber encourages Qatari businessmen to invest in Turkey.
Turkey is also one of Qatar’s top customers for non-oil exports, according to Qatar’s Chamber.
Qatar even launched a website, where customers in Qatar can shop online for products shipped from vendors in Turkey. Qatari Transport Minister Jassim Saif al-Sulaiti said the products will reach the customer in seven days, and they are working on shortening the waiting time.
There have also been numerous high-level meetings and during the attempted Turkish coup in 2016, Qatar quickly offered support to its government, and, as noted by the Turkish ambassador to Qatar, “Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was the first leader to call President Erdogan and express support to our government and Turkish people.”
Although Qatar has vast amounts of wealth and are mineral-rich, Qatar is one of the smallest states in the Middle East, surrounded by much larger powers. To protect Qatar’s sovereignty and security, officials in Doha have historically depended upon foreign support for defense.
Doha’s strategy for international security, hinges on embracing a host of states as defense partners, pitting their competing geopolitical interests against one another, and advancing Qatar’s national interests in the process.
Despite being a G.C.C. member, Qatar has long considered Saudi Arabia an overbearing neighbour that does not always respect the tiny Gulf Arab state’s sovereignty and independence. They have had their differences in the past and building relations with Turkey is one way for Qatar to keep some of its options open and maintain some room to manoeuvre beneath the dominant Saudi position.
The close military ties between Turkey and Qatar are not intended to be a substitution for the key alliance Qatar has with the United States, as the host of USCENTCOM, rather it factors into Doha’s strategy of diversifying the emirate’s web of defense partners, while providing more influential countries around the world with higher stakes in a stable and prosperous Qatar.