Why the Qatari-Iranian alliance comes as no surprise

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

By : Abdulrahman al-Rashed

:: Qatar’s cooperation with Iran has not surprised Gulf observers. Their alliance is stark proof of what countries angered by Qatar have said about its behavior and actions. It is further evidence that Qatar, like Iran, is a source of chaos and violence. The Qatari-Iranian alliance, reborn this week, is a meeting of the two main poles of funding violence in the region. On one hand, Iran is the main supporter of extremist Shiite militant groups such as Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, the Fatimids, and others. On the other hand, since the 1990s, Qatar has been the sponsor of extremist Sunni militant organizations such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, Nusra Front, Ansar al-Sharia, and others.

The only common denominator between Qatar and Iran that forces them to converge 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. While Qatar says that the economic boycott by its angry Gulf neighbors has forced it into the Iranian embrace, this is simply not true. Its consumer market is the smallest in the region, which can easily be met, and most of Qatar’s needs are met by other markets in the region and overseas.

But the potential trade between the two governments is based on one commodity: forming a hostile front against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. With this move, Qatar goes back to its foreign policy before 2010, which was disabled due to differences over revolutions, particularly in Syria. Qatar was an ally of Iran, a key supporter of Syria’s Assad and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This alliance was then directed against the Saudi-Egyptian alliance. The relationship between Doha and Tehran has lasted for more than a decade, directed against Saudi Arabia, and the two governments have supported Hezbollah and Hamas fiercely.

Signs of change and cooperation preceded visits carried out by Qatari officials to the Iranian capital recently. Al Jazeera showed changed rhetoric from the Qatari government. It covered the Houthis, Iran’s allies in the Yemen war, defended pro-Iranian armed groups in the Saudi town of Awamiyah, and changed its tone about its coverage of the uprising in Syria.

A hostile move

Qatar refused to agree to several terms set by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, considering it interference on its sovereignty – but it is now making itself available to the Iranians and their allies. Why? Not for military protection, as it is the case with Turkey, but the cooperation with the Iranian regime is a conscious effort to take a hostile, offensive step. In return, Tehran expects Qatar to extend financial and propaganda support to Iranian forces across the region in order to increase pressure on its opponents.

This all emphasizes what everyone knows already, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, the retiring prince, is still the one who manages the crisis in Qatar, not his son Tamim, the current prince. Unfortunately for Doha, no matter who runs it today, US policy under the leadership of Donald Trump, the main international player in the region, has altered from what it was during former President Barack Obama. Trump’s administration is fighting Iran rather than appeasing it.

Doha’s move to cooperate with the Iranian regime is a senseless step and proof that the Arab quartet can use in discussions with international governments. It is further evidence of the nature of the Qatari system and its ties to extremism and violence. It will be difficult to justify it to a large part of the Arab public, who despise the mullahs in Tehran because of their actions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

:: Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

:: Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.

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