Turkish and Qatari navies have carried out a joint exercise as Qatar’s economic blockade by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries entered into third month.
The Qatari military said the exercise was aimed at exchanging information, training senior military officials, and improving coordination between the two forces to boost security.
Brigadier Hadi Rashid Al Shahwani, commander of the exercise, said that the “Iron Shield” included training of leaders to assess the situation, planning, control and coordination between the two forces.
The Qatar New Agency reported that the exercise was carried out to support counter-terrorism efforts, “extremism and smuggling operations, as well as to maintain security and stability in the region”.
In addition to the naval drill, Qatari and Turkish infantry and artillery forces took part in a ground training exercise, according to Al Jazeera News.
Turkey’s parliament on June 8 fast-tracked the approval of an April 2016 agreement with Qatar on the implementation of troops’ deployment to the Turkish military base.
It also approved a December 2015 agreement that allows the Turkish military to train Qatari security forces.
The approval of the agreements came days after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed relations with Qatar, accusing it with financing and supporting “terrorism” – allegations Doha denies.
Meanwhile, Yasin Aktay, a senior member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), told Al Jazeera that Turkey’s military presence in Qatar “creates a balance in the region” that prevents potential clashes.
“Turkey is protecting its own interests through the base in Qatar, rather than taking sides between the parties at odds. And Ankara’s interests require stability in the region. Therefore Turkey would be against an attack on Saudi Arabia as much as Qatar,” Aktay said adding:
“There would always be forces to fill the vacuum when there are unbalanced situations like [developments in the Gulf region]. And Turkey’s interests require it not to leave a power vacuum there. Turkey’s existence there prevents potential mistakes.”
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are both in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. Saudi Arabian fighter jets join anti-ISIL operations through Turkey’s Incirlik airbase.
Turkish base in Qatar
Riyadh and its allies have called for the closure of Turkey’s military base in Qatar as part of their demands to resolve the diplomatic crisis began on June 5 when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates Egypt and Yemen broke diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed economic blockade.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said that the demands were “against international law” and rejected closing down the base.
Ankara had offered to form a military base in Saudi Arabia but was denied by government sources, according to Saudi state media.
Turkey plans to gradually increase the number of its forces in Qatar to 3,000, according to the agreement between them, and keep a brigade in the Gulf country.
Five armored vehicles and 23 military Turkish military personnel arrived in Doha on June 18. At the time, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported that there were already at least 88 Turkish soldiers in Qatar.
The number of Turkish soldiers sent to the Gulf state could eventually reach 1,000, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported, adding that an air force contingent was also envisaged.
The Turkish military base in Qatar is a first for Turkey in the Arab World. The first Turkish troop deployment to Qatar was in 2015.
Turkey stood by Qatar after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain called it a supporter of terrorism, which Doha denies, and cut off diplomatic ties and transport links.
Impact on the UAE
As Qatar remained defiant to the Saudi-led demands to lift economic boycott, the boss of Standard Chartered has warned that Dubai risks damaging its status as a financial centre as a result of the trade boycott of Qatar by a Saudi-led bloc, which includes the United Arab Emirates.
Al-Jazeera says Standard Chartered is a major lender across the Middle East and CEO Bill Winters said it could become increasingly difficult for Dubai to act as a comprehensive regional hub for international companies’ Gulf operations if the tension in the region continued.
Qatar Navigation (Milaha), a top Doha-based shipping and logistics group, said it was moving its regional trans-shipment hub from Dubai to the Omani port of Sohar after a diplomatic crisis in the region disrupted Qatar’s trade.
Milaha is setting up a warehousing and logistics operation at Sohar, on Oman’s northern coast, and is exploring other opportunities to expand in that country, the company said on Monday.
The plan suggests Qatar is making long-term preparations to cope with sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, Al Jazeera said.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com