The Gulf Crisis and Turkey

June 7, 2017

On June 5, 2017 Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen’s UN-backed government, the eastern government of divided Libya and the Maldives severed diplomatic relations with Qatar over allegations of support for terrorism. In addition, they closed all land, sea and aviation links.

According to a statement attributed to an official source, the Saudi Press Agency reported that the Kingdom has taken this decision,

“as a result of grave violations being committed by the authorities in Doha over the past years in secret and public aiming at dividing internal Saudi ranks, instigating against the State, infringing on its sovereignty, adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, promoting the ethics and plans of these groups through its media permanently, supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups in the governorate of Qatif of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Bahrain, financing, adopting and sheltering extremists who seek to undermine the stability and unity of the homeland at home and abroad, and using the media that seek to fuel the strife internally; and it was clear to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the support and backing from the authorities in Doha for coup Al-Houthi militias even after the announcement of the Coalition to Support the Legitimacy in Yemen…”

A statement by the UAE also referred to the insistence of the State of Qatar to continue to undermine the security and stability of the region and its failure to honor international commitments and agreements.

On the same day, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that it was saddened by these developments and that “Turkey, as a responsible actor in its region and the current Chair of the Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, is ready to do its part with a view to finding a swift solution to this disagreement among friendly and brotherly countries.”

And, some countries have taken the initiative through “telephone diplomacy” to calm tensions. Turkey is among them. However, a return to the status quo ante may not be just around the corner. Because, the statement by Saudi Arabia gives the impression of being the last step before the declaration of war. The Kingdom, having directed such serious accusations against Qatar cannot afford to go back to square one without showing the world that the measures collectively targeting Qatar have somehow achieved their purpose, if not fully. Otherwise, the anti-Qatar coalition will suffer loss of prestige. Riyadh, already in deep trouble in Yemen, cannot afford that. And Qatar, for years accustomed to pursuing independent policies and punching above its weight will find it difficult to meet all the demands contained in the Saudi ultimatum. This episode is yet another sad sign of where the region’s sectarian war with its conflicting interests, shifting alliances and no clean records has taken the Middle East.

Turkey and Qatar signed on December 19, 2014 an agreement on cooperation in military training, defense industry and deployment of the Turkish Armed Forces in the territory of Qatar. The purpose of the agreement is given as establishing a mechanism to strengthen cooperation in the fields of military training, defense industry, joint military exercises and the deployment of forces between the parties. It goes without saying that the agreement is also a reflection of profound political solidarity between the parties. Thus, it would be fair to say that the demands addressed to Doha by the anti-Qatar coalition may also have been conceived as an indirect message to Turkey. As the details of these demands become clearer, one would see what kind of implications they would have for relations between Turkey and the Gulf as well as between Turkey and Qatar including the future of the agreement on military cooperation. President Trump’s unexpected Twitter endorsement of the move to isolate Qatar  despite the presence of 10,000 American troops at Al Udeid air base could also mean further complications in Ankara’s relations with Washington.

Turkey’s attempts to build a military base in Qatar was nothing but an example of the neo-Ottoman fantasy of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) to fast-track Turkey into a global power. Unfortunately, the theoreticians of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman policies never bothered to look at other global powers like the US, China and Russia and why they enjoy such status. All three have huge countries and populations. All three are leading economies. All three have a capacity to produce new technologies. All three are major military powers. And, all three keep their lines of communication and dialogue open with the rest of the world no matter what.

The options for Turkey in the face of the Gulf crisis, some obviously only theoretical, are:

  1. Undertaking the strongest diplomatic/political initiatives and telling Qatar’s adversaries to step back;
  2. As a sign of commitment to Qatar’s security, immediately reinforcing Turkish military presence in Qatar and thus sending a message to the other Gulf states and Egypt that we stand by our strategic partner;
  3. Calling for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation;
  4. Waiting for the United States to weigh in and resolve the problem;
  5. Saying that we are saddened by what is happening; that we are already doing our share to resolve the crisis; and finally,
  6. Admitting that our involvement in inter-Arab affairs and region’s sectarian conflict has been a disaster and that a dramatic course change is long overdue.

The JDP government seems to have gone for option (5). While pursuing this option and giving it publicity, it would be well-advised to at least consider looking also at option (6). The Gulf crisis, though another divisive development, may provide a window of opportunity for Ankara for a major course correction in its foreign and security policy through a combination of these last two options. This could be the time to extract ourselves from Middle East’s sectarian wars and rebuild our traditional alliances, not to destroy them.












About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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