JEDDAH: As international pressure on Iran increases, its ally, Qatar, finds itself in a precarious situation. Should the situation escalate and Washington decides to take military action, there is a real risk that Doha could share sensitive US military intelligence with Tehran, experts warn.
Doha has a history of running with the hare while hunting with the hound. Since 2017, however, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain — the anti-terror quartet (ATQ) — imposed a boycott on the country over its support of terrorist organizations, Qatar has shown its true colors and its previously secret alignment with Turkey and Iran has been exposed.
Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, who was Qatar’s prime minister from April 2007 until June 2013 and foreign minister from January 1992 to June 2013, recently suggested, in a message posted on Twitter, that his country does not support the escalation of action against Iran.
On Wednesday night, state-funded Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera cited an anonymous official as saying that Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani recently traveled to Tehran to meet his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Javad Zarif. Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com reportedly tracked a Qatari government plane that landed in Tehran at 7 p.m. on Saturday and set off on the return flight to Doha at 10:30 p.m. the same day. Other media outlets suggested that the Doha official who visited Iran was in fact Sheikh Tamim, Qatar’s ruler.
Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based international-affairs scholar, said that if America decides to take military action against Iran, there is a risk that Qatar will repeat the “treason” it is believed to have committed while participating in Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen in 2015, during which unconfirmed leaks suggested that Qatari troops shared military intelligence with the Iran-backed Houthi militias.
“There is a possibility that the US will attack Iran, in which case the B-52s and US bombers will fly out from Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar,” said Al-Shehri. “How will Qatar then defend its position as an ally of Iran? They are caught out now, and this happened because of the boycott of Qatar by the quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. The boycott forced Qatar to shed its duplicity.”
Al-Udeid is the forward headquarters of the US Central Command. Several of the B-52 bombers ordered by the White House to the region during the latest escalation between Washington and Tehran are stationed there.
“The Qataris are a strange case,” Al-Shehri said. “They chose to side with the enemies of Gulf countries. The Iranian militias undermine the stability of the entire region. Iran is the biggest threat to this region, and Qatar stood with Iran against their (Gulf) brothers.
“Now, because of Iran’s actions, the safety and security of the region is at risk — the same region of which Qatar is a part. The question is, will they stick to being a trusted US ally? Or will they end up sharing US military intelligence with the Iranians?”
Salman Al-Ansari, the founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), said: “The Qatari regime was, and still is, in complete denial of their poisonous behavior. Qatar was playing the dirty game of pretending to be a friend of its Arab neighbors while strengthening its relations with Iran and its militias. That all has been unmasked after the ATQ boycott.
“Qatar seemed to enjoy stabbing the GCC and its Arab neighbors in the back. The Qatari regime is obviously on the very wrong side of history. Qatar should know one thing: That the world after the Riyadh summit (a series of summits in May 2017 during US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia) is never going to be like the world was before. The financial and ideological support of terrorism will not be taken lightly by the region and the world.”
Al-Ansari added that with a US presidential election looming in November next year, Doha might be thinking that it only has to bide its time until the Trump administration is possibly replaced.
“Qatar might still be holding onto the hope that the US will have a Democratic president soon, who will be lenient about its support of Iran and terror organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “The thing they don’t understand is that the train of combating the evil of terrorism is unstoppable.”