Qatar must accept its place and size in the Gulf

Sunday 18/06/2017

For many, the Qatari crisis and the unprec­edented harsh meas­ures taken by Gulf nations against the country were not all that unexpected. They did not arise from a vacuum but were an important side effect of the May Riyadh summit.

Before then, the cards were shuf­fled and Iran’s game plan had a good chance of succeeding inside the Gulf. By spreading its wings over the United States’ oil and gas supply zones, Tehran would indeed have had an important leverage in its negotiations with Washington. The sanctions against Qatar imposed by Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries will lead to a different game plan.

Qatar has the infamous repu­tation of leading the support network for most terrorist organi­sations active in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

These days, all parties with vested interests and power are on full alert. At stake are complex and intertwined political and military projects and agreements. They have been gestating for quite some time and might constitute the an­swer to the crises in the region.

Qatar must proceed with a seri­ous overhaul of its policies that have proven to be detrimental to the interests of the Qataris them­selves and to those of the Gulf and Arab countries. This policy review cannot be limited to just the few previous years and the birth of the Islamic State (ISIS) but must ex­tend to the painful heritage of the past 15 years. We all know Qatar’s role in facilitating the US occupa­tion of Iraq in March 2003 and the dire consequences of that occupa­tion on the Iraqi people.

Qatari rulers might argue that they were not alone in facilitating the US invasion of Iraq. Be that as it may, it does not remove their responsibility towards the Iraqi people.

In Iraq, Qatar had played a dou­ble game. On the one hand, it fi­nanced Sunni Arab politicians and pushed them into the elections under the banner of defending Sunni rights. On the other, Qatari funds propped up organisations, such as the Association of Muslim Scholars, that are totally opposed to elections and the political pro­cess in Iraq.

Political circles in Iraq have unveiled and denounced Qatar’s involvement in undermining the political process in the country but Qatar did not care. In the meantime, Sunni factions born in Iraq spread their wings over Syria, Egypt and Libya.

In Syria, for example, many prisoner and hostage swaps inside battle zones were completed through Qatari mediation. Qatari official bodies usually announced these swaps with great pride as if to show off their capacity to influence extremist factions such as al-Nusra Front. There was also the scandal in Iraq involving the liberation of kidnapped Qatari game hunters. An official Qatari plane had been used to deliver the $1 billion ransom demanded by the kidnappers after it had landed at Baghdad Airport.

With their impressive record of political and security blunders in the region, Qatari authorities must nevertheless be daring enough to accept a complete review of their policies for the sake of national security imperatives of all the Gulf countries. This is not the time for further blaming games or unnec­essary stubbornness. According to the wishes of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, any resolution to their disagree­ment with Qatar must address the following security concerns.

First, Qatar must stop provid­ing a haven for extremist Islamist leaders or even to those pretending to be moderate. The time has come for Doha to start extraditing them and stop funding them from inside or outside of Qatar. Qatar must also extradite all Hamas members, freeze their assets and forbid any dealings with them. It must also arrest members of the Muslim Brotherhood on its territory and hand them over to Egypt.

Second, Iran-backed sectar­ian clashes are threatening the national security of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Ku­wait. Qataris are also not immune to these tensions. The media war between Iran and its allies on one side and the Gulf countries on the other side could easily spark armed conflicts.

Third, the smear campaign di­rected at Saudi Arabia in particular and Gulf and Arab populations in general through incendiary pro­grammes on Al Jazeera must stop. In other words, Qatar needs to give up or close its media project.

For the Qatari regime, the path to safety and stability is clear. Qatar needs to accept its place and size and stop imagining itself a gi­ant among giants.