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Motivation behind recent military agreement with Qatar remains a mystery

Motivation behind recent military agreement with Qatar remains a mystery

In this photo provided by the presidential press service, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) and Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani shake hands before a meeting at his new presidential palace in Ankara, Turkey on Dec. 19, 2014. (Photo: AP)

May 09, 2015, Saturday/ 17:00:00/ MUHSİN KARAGÜLLE | ANKARA

The reason behind a military agreement between Turkey and Qatar allowing for the deployment of Turkish troops in Qatar and the stationing of Qatari soldiers in Turkey remains unclear.

During an official visit to Turkey of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on Dec. 19, 2014, officials from the two countries signed a military cooperation agreement that was later ratified by Parliament. It went into effect when it was published in the Official Gazette on March 28, 2015.

The agreement, initially requested by the Qatari side, aims at strengthening both governments' cooperation in military training and the defense industry and allows for the deployment of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) to Qatar and the Qatari military to Turkey. Though the main purpose of the military accord is explained by government representatives who included Ministry of Foreign Affairs Deputy Undersecretary Ümit Yalçın as improving relations between Turkey and Qatar, the reasons behind the clause allowing the reciprocal deployments remain unclear.

Turkey has previously signed military agreements with a number of Asian and African countries for cooperation in military training and the defense industry. However, none of those countries or Turkey requested an article enabling the deployment of the TSK to be included in those agreements. This new aspect of the military accord between Turkey and Qatar therefore raised questions.

During a meeting of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission on March 2 in which commission members discussed and prepared a report on the agreement for Parliament, several members criticized and strongly opposed the article allowing for the deployment of the TSK in Qatar. Since the Qatari army is already one of the smallest in the world, commission members' concern was rather focused on the deployment of Turkish troops in Qatar.

Republican People's Party (CHP) deputies in the commission Oktay Ekşi, Osman Korutürk, Ali Haydar Öner and Mehmet Ali Ediboğlu expressed doubts in their dissenting opinion over why the deployment of the TSK to Qatar was included in the agreement and what functions the Turkish military will perform in Qatar.

Complaining about attempts by government representatives at the commission meeting to brush off concerns about what, if deployed, the TSK would do in Qatar, Korutürk, who had previously served as a high-ranking diplomat, said: “What is the purpose of this [agreement], we need to understand that. Is the purpose to give military training to the Syrian opposition forces through deployment of a training unit in Qatar under [the auspices of] what we call ‘equip-train' [referring to an accord signed between Turkey and the US to train and equip the Syrian opposition].”

Korutürk continued questioning the ambiguity of the agreement's objectives, asking, “Or is a ‘task force' being created under the United States Central Command [CENTCOM] located in Qatar, and Turkey is going to contribute to that task force?”

Michael Stephens, a prominent research fellow at London-based research center Royal United Services Institute, talked to Sunday's Zaman about the doubts of those opposed to the agreement, who cited predictions that the TSK will be deployed to Qatar to train Syrian opposition groups. He said that in his opinion there is already an extensive training program in Qatar for groups such as Ahrar al-Sham. According to Stephens, this military agreement might imply greater coordination in terms of training Free Syrian Army groups and groups like Ahrar al-Sham.

Interestingly, there were other agreements between Qatar and Turkey signed on May 23, 2007 and July 2, 2012 which paved the way for cooperation in the “military fields of training, technique and science” and in the “defense industry.” Therefore, opposition deputies in the commission said they believe that the recent agreement signed on Dec. 19, 2014 was created primarily to open the door for a possible “deployment of the Turkish Armed Forces in the territory of Qatar.”

Qatar's need for foreign forces

 

Analysts believe that despite claims that Qatar is aiming to train the Syrian opposition using experienced TSK commanders, the recent agreement might mean more than just helping the Syrian opposition.

Stephens recalled Qatar's historic dependence on a foreign military presence in its territory, saying: “The West has traditionally been the country which deploys the most into the Gulf region. By having Turkey do this [potential military deployment in Qatar], it's expanding the number of players that can be invested in the security of Qatar.”

Qatar indeed needs foreign powers to protect it from any possible threat since Qatar's army is the second-smallest in the region. In addition to any potential threats from Iran, there have also been incidents in which Qatar had to put its military forces on alert for border security purposes, such as during the 2013 border conflict with Saudi Arabia.

After mentioning the threat to regional security from Iran, Stephens said, “This agreement comes at a time when the Gulf is feeling extremely insecure and is needing signals of support from its allies.”

In that regard, the military agreement on the potential deployment of the TSK to Qatar might help improve relations between Turkey and Qatar, as suggested by government representatives at the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Commission meeting. Nevertheless, those opposed to the agreement in the commission meeting believed such an objective could not justify the agreement, given their suspicions that the agreement will be used to deploy the TSK to train Syrian opposition groups in Qatar. The head of the commission, Ahmet Berat Çonkar, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), denied that possibility, however.

Regardless of what analysts say and how politicians interpret the agreement, the reasons for allowing for Turkish military deployment in Qatar were not explained clearly in the agreement, thus raising questions.

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