The blockade of Qatar by 11 countries led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is not just about stopping Doha from allegedly funding terrorist groups. At a time when many countries, including the United States and Gulf nations, see the terrorists of others as their own proxies, charging any government with financing terrorism only reflects a broader power struggle.
By opening Pandora’s Box, U.S. President Donald Trump has created new geopolitical circumstances that will intensify and diversify violent conflicts in the Middle East, as if his predecessor, Barack Obama, had not activated enough fault lines already. As Russia discovers new ways to meddle in the region’s affairs, regional powers have also upped the ante. The danger ahead has caused Ankara to call for dialogue and reconciliation between the parties and say that it considers the blockade of Qatar unfair.
Turkish policy makers backing Doha is a highly significant approach to reconcile Qatar and its opposition
Over the past week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, acting as the term president of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), engaged in a series of talks with relevant parties. In addition to serving as a mediator, Turkey has sent tons of food supplies to Doha, which supported Ankara during last summer’s coup attempt, and fast-tracked the ratification of two military agreements with Qatar in Parliament. Over the next months and years, the number of Turkish troops stationed in that country will presumably increase from 90 to 3,500. While Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani welcomed Turkey’s decision citing regional security, Anwar Mohammad Qargash, the UAE’s foreign minister, slammed Doha for asking Turkey and Iran for assistance.
To be clear, Ankara’s support for Qatar cannot be reasonably seen as an effort to escalate the situation or discourage Doha from reaching an agreement with the Gulf countries. Nor does it make any sense to suggest that a tripartite alliance has been formed between Turkey, Qatar and Iran just because some regional powers are willing to shelter the civilian population from the blockade’s side effects by sending them food or letting Qatar’s national airline continue using their airspace. Quite the contrary, Ankara, which is deeply concerned by the polarization between Iran and Saudi Arabia, has every intention of following a realist and balanced foreign policy.
At the same time, Turkish policymakers understand that Muslim countries and their citizens stand to lose if this dangerous escalation leads to new proxy wars or violent conflicts. Sadly enough, the Trump administration’s Middle East policy appears aimed at balancing Washington’s budget with Gulf money. Under the circumstances, it is necessary to consider Ankara’s support of Doha as an effort to help the country reach an honorable agreement with Qatar’s adversaries. At the end of the day, Ankara does not want Qatar, which has been a close political and economic ally, to face an economic embargo, military intervention or coup. It does not want the game of thrones in authoritarian monarchies to be exploited by outsiders either.
Moving forward, it will not be easy to help Doha break the blockade. Needless to say, the position of the U.S., which gave the green light for the blockade despite having 10,000 troops at the Al-Udeid Air Base, will determine the future course of events. In recent days, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE placed 59 individuals and 12 entities on their terrorism list to specify their demands from Qatar. Now, the parties will engage in mediated negotiations to make a deal. Unless Moscow and the countries that attract Qatari investments step in to contribute to the diplomatic and political resolution of the crisis, the country will effectively cease to be a sovereign state in line with the UAE’s Israeli-guided ambitions. In other words, the region will experience further turmoil as fuel is being poured on the fire of the Saudi-Iranian rivalry.
Need I remind our readers that commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard blamed last week’s Daesh attacks on Saudi Arabia and pledged to avenge the dead?
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on June 14, 2017.