Turkey will train Qatari fighter pilots and allow the temporary deployment of up to 36 Qatari military aircraft and up to 250 personnel to Turkey according to a document obtained by Nordic Monitor, as Turkey tries to improve relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia other Gulf states, which are unhappy with Turkey’s growing military cooperation with Qatar.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on June 3 forwarded for parliament’s approval a technical agreement signed by Turkey and Qatar on the deployment of Qatari military aircraft and support personnel in Turkey, with a note of justification attached which explains that the agreement is aimed at contributing to the training and experience of Qatari military pilots within the framework of friendship and cooperation between the two countries. It is expected to be approved soon given the support for the Erdoğan government in the legislature.
The agreement also states that in the event of a request from Turkey, Qatari aircraft will be able to carry Turkish ammunition, personnel and humanitarian aid inside and outside Turkey, demonstrating that the agreement is not limited to training. The agreement will remain in force for five years and will be extended automatically for successive periods of one year unless either party notifies its intention to withdraw.
Text of the agreement that was signed by the chiefs of staff of both countries in March 2021:Tr-Qatar English
Despite a clause in the agreement which clearly states that the fulfillment of obligations arising from multilateral and bilateral agreements is not hindered, several problems would seem to arise in the implementation of the new agreement. For instance, if Qatari pilots are to receive training on Turkish jets, for example on US-made F-16s, US permission must be secured. In 2017 the US rejected a Turkish proposal to use Pakistani pilots for training Turkish pilots in F-16 fighter jets following the government’s purge of 680 of 1,350 pilots in the Turkish Air Forces after a controversial coup attempt in 2016. Similarly, the Qatar Air Force may also require permission for Turkish pilots to fly on French-made aircraft since one Turkish pilot must be present in the aircraft according to the agreement. The Qatar Air Force currently has a fleet of French-made Mirage 2000 and Rafale aircraft, and it also has ordered 36 F-15Es from the US, in line with which Qatar signed a $68 million contract with Boeing for the training of its pilots in the United States starting from 2021.
Qatar also signed a similar pilot training agreement with Italy in November 2020, expressing its will to purchase Leonardo T-346 jet trainers widely used by the Italian Air Force. One of the reasons Qatar needs foreign countries for the training of combat pilots is simply that its airspace is small and inadequate for basic training.
In September 2020 Qatar submitted a formal request to the United States to buy F-35 fighter jets following a similar request from the UAE to purchase F-35s a few months earlier. Israel reportedly opposes these purchases because it will change the balance in the region. It is not difficult to guess that Israel will likewise lobby against the possibility of Qatari pilots being trained in American jets.
Qatar and Turkey were criticized by other Gulf states and Egypt for the strong support they provided to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is listed as a terrorist organization and demands regime change in their countries. Meanwhile, in January the Gulf countries signed a declaration to end a dispute with Qatar that started when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic relations in 2017.
Being isolated in the Mediterranean and realizing that the problems with the leading Arab countries were harming its foreign policy in the region, Turkey decided to make efforts to ease tensions with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. However, neither country has indicated a willingness to repair relations without significant concessions from Turkey.
Turkey has since 2017 had a military base with around 3,000 troops in Qatar led by the Qatar-Turkey Combined Joint Force Command, established in 2015. Moreover, Turkey and Qatar signed a security protocol for the deployment of Turkish police units during the FIFA World Cup to be held in November-December 2022. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have several times demanded that Qatar shut down the Turkish base, which they claim is a source of instability in the region.
Arabic version of the agreement:Qatar -Arabic