Last week, a number of Arab governments including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and demanded the Qatari citizens to leave their soil within 14 days, citing what they called Doha's support for terrorism as a reason for their measures.
They also closed their airspace and ports to the Qatari airplanes and ships in what amounted to a siege.
Meanwhile, Turkey criticized the Saudi-led blockade against Qatar, saying that Ankara was against the move. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 12 slammed the Persian Gulf Arab states' blockade of Qatar in televised comments to his party in Ankara. Saying that he was aware that some regional countries were “pleased” with the last year’s July 15 military coup in his country that sought removing him from power, the Turkish leader called on the Arab countries to immediately lift the embargo on Qatar.
The stances by Erdogan indicated difference between Turkey and the Arab states while in other areas of crisis in the region such as Syria they try to adopt united positions.
Now a question presents itself here: What are the opportunities and challenges of Ankara's support for Doha in the face of Riyadh-lead Arab nations?
Now that Saudi Arabia has closed its sole land border Al-Masurah with Qatar, a route through which between 600 and 800 trucks carry food and goods from Saudi Arabia to Qatar every day, Doha turns to Turkey where it can get its needs through air.
Ruled by the Erdogan-led Justice and Development Party during last decade, Turkey has made its way into a sustainable growth. In a world of tight competition between the global market leaders, the Turkish producers find themselves in not an easy contest. However, the Turks are provided by a big chance now to enter the Qatari stock and goods markets as the tensions between Doha and the fellow Arab states are yet far from winding down.
Establishing permanent Turkish military base in Qatar
To keep going with this rate of economic growth and realizing its economic plans, Turkey needs to import energy from outside world, particularly from the resource-rich Arab states in the Persian Gulf region. On the other side, Turkey wants to contain any risks posed to the outflow of energy from these Arab countries. This makes setting up military bases in the region an ideal goal for the Turkish leaders to serve their country’s energy interests.
But this is not the only reason why Ankara seeks having its own military bases in the Persian Gulf. In recent years, Turkey adopted a doctrine that seeks expanding its strategic depth as Ankara seeks ti pose itself as a regional and even an international power. To do so, the country needs to have military presence beyond its geographical borders, particularly in regions with geostrategic and geoeconomic significance like the Persian Gulf. Now that Arab states are hit by a diplomatic crisis, Ankara leaders find the opportunity ripe to go after such aims.
To this end, the Turkish parliament on June 7 approved a legislation allowing Erdogan's government deploys troops to a Turkish military base in Qatar. The bill, drafted just before the crisis, won a landslide approval from the lawmakers. The bill came in two sections: “sending armed forces of the Republic of Turkey to Qatar according to Qatar government agreement with Turkey government” and “Turkey-Qatar cooperation for training Qatari gendarmerie forces.”
Doha and Ankara struck deal on training gendarmerie forces on December 2, 2015. They also reached agreement to send Turkish forces to Qatar on April 28, 2016. And now that the crisis escalates with a military action against Doha being probable, the agreements between the two sides are fast taking effect.
Strengthening Ankara opponents
The Turkish backing of Qatar will not go without costs for Turkey. The Persian gulf Arab states, in particular the United Arab Emirates (UAE), that have a record of anti-Turkey measure will probably intensify their efforts to put strains on Ankara to quit its pro-Doha stance.
On Tuesday, a Turkish daily has accused the UAE of backing the 2016 military coup that was aimed at ousting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and paying the conspirators three billion dollars.
Mehmet Acet, a columnist for Yeni Safak daily, said that Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meant the UAE when he recently referred to a Muslim country that spent billions to topple the Turkish government in the coup in July 2016.
Cavusoglu said in recent remarks that a foreign country funneled money to the conspirators while making efforts to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"We know that a country provided $3 billion in financial support for the coup attempt in Turkey and exerted efforts to topple the government in illegal ways. On top of that, it is a Muslim country,” said the Turkish foreign minister, as quoted by Acet.
In a similar development, the Qatari Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid Al Attiyah on June 8 revealed in a Twitter post that the leaders of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an archenemy of Turkey and blacklisted by Ankara as a terrorist group, met with the UAE intelligence chief last month. The place of meeting remains undisclosed.
Such a strategy by the Persian Gulf Arab states, topped by Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, is indicative of their aims to.
When the peace deal with the PKK collapsed in 2015, Ankara argued that the new round of attacks and other plots by the opponent militants was a conspiracy sponsored by foreign parties and “enemies of Turkey” who sought to destabilize the country and block its power gain in the region. The leak of PKK meeting with the Emirates intelligence head can set off the alarm bells for Turkey that might expect escalation in militant organization's activities against its national security in the future.
Economic ties with Arab states could weaken
Turkey and Persian Gulf Arab states are on track to expand bilateral economic relations. At the time being, the two sides' trade volume hits $17 billion. In his February visit to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and then Kuwait, the Turkish leader emphasized larger trade volume with these countries and reached agreement with the oil-rich kingdoms to establish a regional customs union. But the present crisis can jeopardize the turkey-Persian Gulf Arab states ties and risk the Turkish companies' exit from the profitable Arab countries' markets.