NATO rejects Qatar membership ambition

NATO has declined an overture by Qatar to join the Western military defense alliance, saying membership was reserved to the United States and Europe. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2018

NATO rejects Qatar membership ambition

  • “According to Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, only European countries can become members of NATO,” an official of the 29-country alliance said
  • Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah said Qatar wanted to become a full member of NATO

BRUSSELS: Qatar’s hopes of joining NATO have been well and truly quashed by the 29-member alliance.

NATO said that membership was restricted to the nations of Europe and North America, as specified in its founding treaty of 1949. New membership is restricted to Europe only.

And a Middle East defense expert dismissed Qatar’s aspirations as “mere posturing.”

The hope of NATO membership was raised by the Qatari defense minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah in a recent interview.

But an official at the organization’s headquarters in Brussels said that there was no possibility of the Gulf nation becoming a full member. 

“According to article 10 of the Washington Treaty, only European countries can become new members of NATO. Qatar is a valuable and long-standing partner of NATO. It has contributed to our past ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission in Afghanistan and it has offered airlift to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.”

Al-Attiyah told “Altalaya,” the official magazine of the Qatari defense ministry: “Qatar today has become one of the most important countries in the region in terms of the quality of armament.”

“Regarding the membership, we are a main ally from outside NATO … The ambition is full membership if our partnership with NATO develops and our vision is clear.”

He added: “NATO appreciates Qatar’s contribution to combating terrorism and its financing.”

Qatar is accused by other Arab countries of supporting terror groups and has been under a boycott from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt for more than a year.

The Qatari defense minister — who is also deputy prime minister — was speaking on the first anniversary of the boycott, and the timing was no accident, said Michael Stephens, research fellow for Middle East Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think-tank in London.

“Everyone is feeling pumped up and flexing their muscles and trolling each other. None of this should be taken seriously.”

Al-Attiyah had suggested Qatar could “host one of NATO’s units or one of its specialized centers.” 

But Stephens said that was neither likely nor necessary. United States Central Command (Centcom) already has a forward headquarters in Doha and “is already plugged into NATO,” he said.

He added: “The GCC as a bloc would be more able to contribute. The idea that nobody else in the region except Qatar can … well, it’s just not possible.”

Qatar could try to play up its role as a close ally of Turkey, which is a NATO member, but has increasingly strained relations with other nations in the alliance, particularly over its conduct in Syria.

Turkey has also benefited economically from the crisis between Qatar and its neighbors. With Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia closed, goods are being flown in from Turkey. But the emirate does not need military help.

“Qatar’s security architecture is already adequate. It does not need to be frameworked in this way,” Stephens said. 

“With the conflict between Qatar and the GCC now entrenched, this is just posturing.”

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”