BEIRUT, LEBANON (9:11 P.M.) – The Turkish government has decided to send troops to Qatar. The looming decision was fast tracked, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain pressured Qatar with allegations of terrorism support and cut their ties with the small Emirate.
According to the Reuters news agency with today’s positive parliamentary vote on the issue, Turkey is set to station its troops in Qatar and will provide combat training to Qatari forces. In consequence Qatar, which also hosts the US Central Command and 10.000 US troops at the Al-Udeid base, will now have forces of NATO’s military wise two biggest members stationed on its territory.
With this audacious move of Turkey a further escalation of the dispute between Qatar and its opposing coalition into an open conflict has become unlikely. How far, if at all, the US would have supported the Emirate was questionable, as officials have sent mixed signals.
While the US Defense Department avoided to answer the question, whether Qatar was a host of terrorist groups, it emphasized Qatar’s “enduring committment to regional security” and encouraged “all the parties involved to work together.” US President Donald Trump on the other hand signalled approval of the front against Qatar via Twitter.
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding … extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”, two tweets of the President read.
Last month during his first trip abroad, Trump met with members of the GCC in Saudi Arabia and signed a weapons delivery deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) worth 110 billion US Dollar, the single biggest US arms deal ever, which Trump said, would enable “Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.” In a speech the next day he described the KSA as having taken leadership in the regions’ fight against terrorism and singled out Iran as the major host of terrorism, that needs to be challenged.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both came to extreme wealth due to the nations vast natural resources like oil and gas and are also infamous for pouring financial support over a wide array of extremist groups throughout the Middle East including the Islamic State. For example former US State Secretary Hillary Clinton stated in a leaked e-mail published by Wikileaks, that “Qatar and Saudi Arabia […] are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”
Therefore terrorism support in general can be ruled out as the reason for the coalition around Saudi Arabia to confront Qatar. But peculiarly Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood sets it aside and is also shielding it from influence of the extreme Sunni confession of Wahhabism which predominant in Saudi Arabia and a major pillar of the Kingdom’s power structure.
Other nations in the region, consider the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) a threat. Traditionally this is the case in Syria, where the Muslim Brotherhood is also involved in the latest conflict. But the MB is very active in Egypt too, where it successfully overthrew then President Husni Mubarak in a widespread uprising in 2011, also popularized with the help of the Qatari owned tv-network Al-Jazeera.
Following the event Mohamed Morsi, a member of the MB, was elected President and ruled until in 2013 another round of protests resulted in a military coup and his ousting. But Qatar’s support for the MB is just one, though important, aspect exemplifying policy differences of the region’s states, due to their natural rivalry for influence.
Among the state’s confronting Qatar there are also tensions. For instance between the UAE and the KSA though allied against the Houthis in Yemen a major rift has shown. Groups affiliated with the UAE formed an autonomously ruled region in southern Yemen, despite KSA’s efforts to reinstall Yemen’s ousted President Hadi as the countries’ ruler.
But unlike the states now pressuring Qatar, the Emirate has and fosters good relations with Iran. Qatar, the world’s biggest supplier of liquified natural gas shares a major gas-field in the Gulf with Iran and has cast for itself the role of a soft power and neutral mediator between competitors in the Middle East. This stance of course collides with the vision of a coalition against Iran, promoted by Trump and embraced by the KSA and Bahrain, for which Iran is a nemesis to tackle.
The animosities are also based in religious differences, as Iran’s state religion is Shia Islam. Therefore in Bahrain the government fears Iran’s influence on the dissatisfied mostly Shia population. In the KSA Shiites constitute the majority in the countries’ oil rich east and are of course in a perpetual conflict with the state’s fostering of Wahhabism, which despises Shiites apostates.
Turkey on the other hand, has recently started a rapprochement with Iran and currently deepens it’s trade ties with the country. The two nations, supporting opposing parties in the Syrian conflict, on May 4 also agreed together with Russia, to implement de-escalation zones in Syria, which could prove as a first step to end the 6 years old conflict.
Turkey despite being a NATO member, has seen it’s relations to many Western NATO members including the US rapidly deteriorate in recent years. Especially with the failed military coup in Turkey last year. Turkish President Erdogan in a speech broadcasted on live-tv accused the West of orchestrating the coup: “This coup attempt has actors inside Turkey, but it was written outside. Unfortunately the West is supporting terrorism and stands by coup plotters.”
Turkey also has strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and in an interview with the Saudi owned Al-Arabiya news network in February Erdogan defended the MB against US pressure: “it is not an armed group, but is in actual fact an ideological organisation […] there would be no tolerance for the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey, if they had anything to do with terrorism, and we have not seen or observed any action that indicates this.”
Now according to Al-Jazeera Turkey together with Iran is also negotiating with Qatar about food and water supplies to the Emirate. Egypt, the KSA, the UAE and Bahrain have in addition to severing diplomatic ties with Qatar also set up a total blockade of travel and trade with the Emirate, endangering ending their supplies to it and impeding Qatar’s gas shipments.
As we reported earlier today Iraq was also fast to react and send troops to reenforce it’s border region with Saudi Arabia.
Below is a map of the region also detailing gas and oil fields as well as the respective area’s predominant religious affiliation, done by Persian Gulf Studies, for better orientation: