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Bedfellows: Qatar and Iran

Saudi Ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi recently highlighted Qatar’s cooperation with Iran. Highlighting their alliance is critical because any policy that solely focuses on countering one player may let the other off the hook.

At first glance, Doha and Tehran may appear odd bedfellows. Mainly Persian Iran is ruled by a Shiite theocracy, while mainly Arab Qatar is predominantly Sunni. It would thus seem in Qatar’s interests to be on the side of other Arab Gulf states, not Iran, but that is not the case. Several factors are bringing Tehran and Doha closer together.

To Tehran, often what matters are shared policies and objectives, not commonality in religion or ethnicity. It can ally itself with atheists, Sunni extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, Russia or Venezuela, as long as they help advance its hegemonic ambitions and revolutionary ideals. What brings Doha and Tehran together is a convergence of interests and policies.

Both are engaged in asymmetrical warfare. They know that engaging in a direct war with other powers would lead to their own defeat and could endanger their hold on power, so they advance their agendas via proxies and militias.

Iran’s expansion of proxies worldwide in the last two decades, particularly in the Middle East, has been remarkable. Tehran is interfering in the domestic affairs of almost every nation in the region via financial, military, intelligence and political support for designated terrorist organizations, militias and rebel groups. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has himself acknowledged the extent of Iranian support for his movement.

These proxies become an integral part of a nation’s political decision-making process, Parliament and government, advancing Tehran’s interests rather than those of their own country.

To counterbalance this alliance, a united regional coalition, with the support of Western powers, should take concrete measures against Tehran and Doha simultaneously.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh 

Similar to Iran, Qatar’s relationships with proxies and designated terrorist groups have been multidimensional. Doha has been the “Club Med for terrorists” and the “most two-faced nation in the world,” backing the US-led coalition against Daesh “while providing a permissive environment… for terrorist financiers to operate with impunity.”

Qatar has long been criticized for its relationships with terrorist groups. For example, the US Congress has been long aware that “Qatar-based charities were helping move and launder money linked to Al-Qaeda, providing employment and documentation for key figures in the operation.” The Daily Telegraph wrote: “It must be made clear to Qatar that all violent extremists are enemies and the funding of them by sympathizers must be stopped.”

Doha supports groups such as Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by several countries including the US, Israel, Canada and Egypt. The Country Report on Terrorism released by the US State Department states: “Entities and individuals within Qatar continue to serve as a source of financial support for terrorist and violent extremist groups, particularly regional Al-Qaeda affiliates such as the Nusra Front.”

Tehran and Doha benefit from chaos and instability in other countries in the region, because this grants them a ripe environment to establish and empower proxies. Both countries have long provided shelter to terrorists. The convergence of their interests explains Tehran’s defense of Doha’s defiant position.

To counterbalance this alliance, a united regional coalition, with the support of Western powers, should take concrete measures against Tehran and Doha simultaneously.

 

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.