Iran and Turkey, At War in Syria, Back Qatar in Gulf Crisis With Food and Military Exercises

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Ankara, Turkey, May 7, 2017. Turkey and Iran directly sponsor warring factions in Syria, but have both recently signed off on a Russia-backed deal to evacuate retreating Syrian rebels and establish civilian de-escalation zones in the country. Yasin Bulbul/Reuters

Two traditional foes, Turkey and Iran, have found themselves on the same side of a bitter regional dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Turkey and Iran directly back opposing factions in Syria's civil war, but have a common interest in backing Qatar amid a massive diplomatic and economic boycott led by fellow oil-rich Gulf monarchy, Saudi Arabia. The kingdom announced earlier this month that it, along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, would cut all ties to its neighbor, which it accused of funding terrorism on behalf of both sides of the restive region's battle lines. In response, both Turkey and Iran have defied Saudi Arabia's blockade by sending crucial assistance to Qatar and have flexed their respective militaries in the already tense Persian Gulf.

Related: Saudi Arabia Gives Pakistan One Choice: 'Are You With Us or With Qatar?'

In addition to its three original partners, Saudi Arabia's anti-Qatar alliance now includes the Comoros, Eritrea, Maldives, Mauritania, Senegal, the exiled government of Yemeni President Abbed Rabbo Hadi and the Tobruk-based military government of Libya's General Khalifa Hifter. The bloc has denied Qatar access to its only land border and cut service to crucial air and sea routes. The crisis has led to concerns about a potential humanitarian crisis on the tiny peninsular emirate. 

RTS17ON2 Turkish armored personnel carrier drives at Ankara's military base in Doha, Qatar June 18, 2017. Turkey has begun military drills in Qatar amid a Saudi Arabia-led international boycott against its fellow, oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbor. Qatar News Agency/Reuters

"A ship carrying 4,000 tons of aid is going to Qatar right now, and then another ship carrying 11 tons of aid will also be sent," Turkish Economic Minister Nihat Zeybekci said Monday at an iftar event in Istanbul, according to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News. "They [Qatar] particularly wanted from us milk products and eggs, and we’ve sent 90 planes [loaded with aid] and met all their needs," he added.

Turkey and Qatar have been closely cooperating in Syria, where they both sponsor insurgent groups that have attempted to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2011. In recent years, however, these rebels have experienced defections and major defeats at the hands of both pro-government forces and jihadists such as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda. Assad, whose allies include Iran and Russia, has also reclaimed most of the country's population centers that were formerly held by the opposition, meaning Turkey and Qatar's foothold in Syria has been waning. Fearing that Saudi Arabia could move to completely isolate Turkey's greatest ally in the region, Turkey has expedited a defense agreement with Qatar and Turkish troops began drills Sunday at the Tariq bin Ziyad military base in Doha.

Shortly after Saudi Arabia's ban was announced, unlikely ally Iran stepped in to to provide emergency assistance to Qatar. Iran is Saudi Arabia's greatest rival and the two nations sponsor clashing military and political movements abroad, including warring parties in Syria and Yemen. While Iran's foreign allies have also fought those backed by Qatar, Doha maintained some degree of relations with Iran, one of the reasons that Saudi Arabia initiated the blockade in the first place. Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of providing support both to ultraconservative Sunni Muslim groups and to militant Shiite Muslim organizations with ties to Iran, something Qatar, which is an overwhelmingly conservative Sunni Muslim nation, strongly denies.

RTX39HAZ Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Ankara, Turkey, May 7, 2017. Turkey and Iran directly sponsor warring factions in Syria, but have both recently signed off on a Russia-backed deal to evacuate retreating Syrian rebels and establish civilian de-escalation zones in the country. Yasin Bulbul/Reuters

While Saudi Arabian media reports that Qatar's monarchy was receiving protection from Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps remain entirely unverified, Iran mobilized its military Sunday near the Straight of Hormuz, a strategic waterway linking the Persian Gulf to the Sea of Oman to join China for naval drills. The war games occurred miles away from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as well as U.S. warships stationed in the region. President Donald Trump previously took credit for Saudi Arabia's decision to sever its relationship with Qatar and his administration has designated Iran as one of the primary targets of U.S. foreign policy,

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Jaberi Ansari delivered Sunday a "verbal message" from Iran's President Hassan Rouhani to Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, according to reports by the state-run Qatari News Agency and Iran's semi-official Tasnim News Agency. The details of the message were not specified, however, the correspondence comes as Iran pledges to continue providing assistance to Qatar for "as long as there is demand."