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Qatar’s deal with the devil

On the same day that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had a weekend phone conversation with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued his latest broadside against Saudi Arabia and the Arab coalition.

In a perhaps fitting reminder of just who at the end of the day rules the Islamic republic, Khamenei claimed that Saudi Arabia faces “certain downfall” over its alliance with the US, following the recent meeting of Muslim states in Riyadh in which they declared their readiness to work in a joint alliance with the US to fight global extremism. President Trump’s successful visit to Riyadh struck a sensitive chord with Khamenei.

Khamenei issued this latest threat against the Kingdom because the specter of a unified Saudi-led Muslim-American alliance poses an existential challenge to Iran’s hegemonic aspirations. The Riyadh Summit equated Iranian-sponsored extremism as being on par with the destruction and mayhem waged by Daesh and Al-Qaeda.

The Iranian response is typically to employ an asymmetric strategy to divide and weaken its adversaries. Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, senior military officer of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Khamenei’s personal adviser, has deployed this strategy with impunity over the past decade.

That is why recent reports that a Qatari official met with Soleimani fit into the wider operational methodology of the IRGC. Soleimani is the keeper of Iran’s foreign policy, particularly when it relates to the Arabian Gulf and Syria. Rouhani’s position is merely a facade intended to provide a false veneer of “moderation” to an aggressive Iranian regional policy bent on proliferating Iranian-trained and armed militants. When Rouhani told Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim this Sunday that “we want the rule of moderation and rationality in the relations between countries,” what he really meant is that cooperation with Iran can only come at the price of recognizing and submitting to Iran’s ideological and hegemonic ambitions.

It was no coincidence that Khamenei made his statement about a Saudi Arabian “downfall” while Rouhani attempted to woo Qatar under the false banner of conflict resolution.

Soleimani is the one who holds the cards and personally oversees the logistics and operational direction of the myriad Shiite extremist militias from Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and the wider region. For Soleimani, the only “cooperation” that Iran can accept is pledging fealty to Iran as the predominant power in the Muslim world.

Doha’s negotiations with Iran have proved to be a bitter display of utter humiliation and kowtowing to Qassem Soleimani and the Iranian sectarian agenda he represents.

Oubai Shahbandar

Qatar already once before struck a deal with the devil, when they negotiated directly with Iran to gain the release of members of the royal family who were kidnapped, shockingly, by Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah militants. That deal involved a complex trade that included a cease-fire and forced displacement of thousands of Syrian families in four Syrian towns which ultimately advanced Iran’s agenda of changing the demographics of Syria to benefit its sectarian militias.

Doha’s negotiations with Iran have proved to be a bitter display of utter humiliation and kowtowing to Soleimani and the Iranian sectarian agenda he represents. In Iraq and Syria, Soleimani has demonstrated time and time again that Iran’s diplomatic overtures are meant to achieve the overarching objective of entrenching the “wilayat Al-faqih” concept and Khamenei’s role in it. There is no “moderation” or mutually beneficial cooperation possible with such a paradigm.

The only workable outcome to achieve security and prevent wider instability in the Middle East is the total dismantlement of both the ideology and network of Khamenei and his emissary Soleimani.

It is now prudent for the Arab coalition to work with the US to begin exploring in earnest the feasibility of relocating the military assets and personnel in Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar back to the Prince Sultan Air Base south of Riyadh. The only language Soleimani and his militants understand is that of military deterrence and force. 

Anything short of that can only be naive seditious capitulation to Soleimani’s dangerous, and divisive, seduction. 

• Oubai Shahbandar is a former Department of Defense senior adviser, and currently a strategic communications consultant s pecializing in Middle Eastern and Gulf affairs.