Qatar defended Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s assault on northern Syria last week, becoming the first country to publicly voice support for Turkey’s intervention. Qatar’s support clarifies the extent to which its agenda is at odds with U.S interests and values, while aligning every more closely with those of America’s adversaries.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani claimed that Turkey’s assault stems from “an imminent threat” to the country’s security, adding that Turkey is simply attempting to move that “threat away from its borders.” The minister also blamed Washington, insisting Turkey “couldn’t reach any solution with the U.S., they couldn’t handle this threat until it became explosive for them.”
However, Turkish and U.S. forces were already conducting joint patrols in the border region pursuant to an agreement between Washington and Ankara. While Turkey has spent decades fighting the insurgents of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), neither Ankara nor Doha has presented any evidence of active support for the insurgency from across the Syrian border.
U.S. cooperation with Syrian Kurdish forces against the Islamic State has been a persistent cause of tension with Erdogan, because the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are an outgrowth of the PKK, which the U.S. designates as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Yet in the absence of credible indications that the YPG support the PKK insurgency, there is no grounds for describing the threat as either imminent of explosive.
Qatar’s unabashed support for Turkey is unsurprising, given the rapid clip at which Qatari-Turkish ties have grown since the Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade of Qatar began in 2017. Trade between Qatar and Turkey spiked by 54 percent in 2018 to hit $2 billion; when Turkey suffered a severe currency crisis in August 2018, Qatar came to its rescue with a $15 billion package. Turkey also set up its first-ever overseas military base in Qatar in 2015, and even fast-tracked legislation to deploy additional troops when the blockade hit.
Hamas also defended Turkey’s incursion, reflecting the depth of its ties to both Doha and Ankara. The Palestinian terror group alleged that Ankara has the right to defend itself and eradicate the threat it faces on its border. Both Qatar and Turkey have hosted Hamas members and turn a blind eye to the group’s efforts to fundraise on their soil.
Qatar’s backing for Turkey is only the latest sign of divergence between the U.S. and Qatar, even though Qatar hosts U.S. Central Command at al-Udeid Air Base, the nerve center for the military’s anti-Islamic State operations.
Deeping relations between Doha and Ankara will not bode well for Washington. The Turkish-Qatari axis will promote Hamas and other extremist groups throughout the region, and push policies that will further wreak havoc in an already volatile part of the world. Both countries pick and choose how they align with U.S. interests, and often undermine Washington’s policies in the Middle East. Thus, neither country deserves to be named a U.S. ally. The sooner Washington sees this, the better it will be for our security and regional interests.
Varsha Koduvayur is a senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she focuses on the Gulf. Follow her on Twitter @varshakoduvayur. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.