Doha’s cosiness with Tehran will come back to haunt it
Qatar, like Iran, is a source of chaos and violence. The renewed alliance is best described as the meeting of the two main violence-funding poles in the region.
On one hand, Iran is the main supporter of ultra-hard-line militant groups such as Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq and others. While on the other, Qatar, for nearly three decades, sponsored extremist militant organizations such as Al-Qaeda, Daesh, Nusra Front, Ansar Al-Sharia and others.
The only common denominator bringing Qatar and Iran together is regional security and political cooperation.
Qatar is not an important trading partner of Iran, and there is no Shiite figure in Qatar to facilitate their visits to the holy sites. There is no cultural or popular consensus that can justify political rapprochement.
Doha’s claim that the economic boycott by its angry Gulf neighbors forced it into rebooting ties with Tehran is simply not true. The peninsula’s consumer market is the smallest in the region, meaning that Qatar’s requirements can easily be met.
Any potential Qatari-Iranian trade is based on one factor — forming a hostile front against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.
Adopting such an approach suggests that Qatar has fallen back to its pre-2010 policies. Qatar was an ally of Iran, and a key supporter of Bashar Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
This alliance was then directed against the Saudi-Egyptian axis. The relationship between Doha and Tehran lasted for over a decade, and was anti-Saudi, with the two governments fiercely supporting Hezbollah and Hamas.
Signs of change and the advance of cooperation preceded recent visits by Qatari officials to the Iranian capital. Al Jazeera, Doha’s state-funded media mouthpiece, started employing rhetoric that differed from the official Qatari government position.
It covered the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen, defended pro-Iranian armed groups in the Saudi town of Awamiyah, and changed its viewpoint about the uprising in Syria.
The new alliance is valuable evidence for the Anti-Terror Quartet to present to international governments who may have doubted their claims about Qatar’s dangerous games.
Qatar refused to agree to the terms set by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, describing the boycott and demands made by the Anti-Terror Quartet as a blunt and loud transgression against its sovereignty — but it is now making that sovereignty vulnerable to Iranians and their allies.
Why? Certainly not for military protection, as is the case with Turkey. In fact, the cooperation with Tehran is a conscious effort to take a hostile, offensive step in the region. In return, the Iranian cleric-led regime expects Qatar to pump funds and propaganda support to Iranian proxies spread across the region, in order to increase pressure on its adversaries.
This all emphasizes what everyone knows already, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, the retired prince, is still the one who deals single-handedly with the crisis in Qatar, not his son Tamim, the current emir.
Unfortunately for Doha, no matter who holds the reins there today, US policy under the leadership of Donald Trump, the main international player in the region, changed from what it was during the administration of Barack Obama. Trump’s administration is fighting Iran rather than appeasing it.
Doha’s cooperation with the Iranian regime is a nonsensical step, and presents proof that the Anti-Terror Quartet can use in discussions with international governments. It is further evidence of the hostile nature of the Qatari administration and its ties to extremism and violence. It will be difficult to justify Doha’s decision to a large part of the Arab public, which despises the mullahs in Tehran because of their actions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published. Twitter: @aalrashed
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