Turkey has begun a modest and long-planned, but perhaps politically significant, joint military exercise with Qatar, the Gulf state shunned by several of its Sunni Muslim neighbors in a bitter diplomatic dispute.
Hurriyet Daily News quotes Turkish officials who say the exercises will involve about 250 Turkish troops, 30 armored fighting vehicles, and eventually naval vessels including the frigate TCG Gokova, which recently arrived in Qatar. At least two days of the exercise will involve participation by “high-level commanders” from both Turkey and Qatar.
The stated objective of the exercise is to foster cooperation by the military forces of the two countries against extremist elements such as the Islamic State. However, some observers say the exercise looks more like practice for halting an invasion from adversaries far more sophisticated than a terrorist gang.
Hurriyet notes that Turkey’s parliament passed legislation in June to increase the Turkish military presence in Qatar, which will deeply annoy Qatar’s antagonists Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE since one of their demands is for Qatar to expel Turkish troops from its soil.
Turkey and Qatar also signed a memorandum of understanding to increase agricultural cooperation on Tuesday. Qatar has become highly dependent on Turkey and Iran for food since the diplomatic crisis began.
Turkey has called on all sides in the Qatar dispute to resolve their differences through dialogue, insisting that it does not favor Qatar even though it has been critical of the tactics used by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Turkey’s ambassador to Iran, Reza Hakan Tekin, said in an Iranian interview last weekend that Turkey disapproves of the Saudi coalition’s effort to diplomatically isolate Iran. One of the key complaints against Qatar by the other nations is that it has been too friendly with the Iranians.
“Every country has its sovereign right to develop its relationships with other countries. Hence you cannot impose on any other country to control, or either upgrade or downgrade your relationship with a certain country or a group of countries. We don’t believe that is a right approach,” said Tekin. His Iranian interviewer went on to harass him at length about the way Turkey criticizes Tehran while remaining relatively quiet on Saudi misbehavior in places like Yemen and Bahrain.
Until now, Qatar has been puckishly defiant about the economic impact of the virtual blockade against it, but the Financial Times notes the first trade report since the blockade was imposed shows a 40 percent slump in imports and a 10 percent slide in exports. Part of this decline is due to the way Qatar has been obliged to arrange new shipping routes for goods that can no longer pass through the United Arab Emirates.
The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain met in the latter country over the weekend to discuss the possibility of even more economic sanctions against Qatar, while also signaling that they were open to renewed talks if Qatar “announces its sincere willingness to stop funding terrorism and extremism and its commitment to not interfere in other countries’ foreign affairs and respond to the 13 demands.”
It sounds as if the nations aligned against Qatar haven’t budged an inch. In fact, they added another 18 individuals and entities to the list of alleged terrorist supporters that Qatar must cease enabling.