Qatar’s unfriendly skies

Obviously not worried that its strange embrace of Iran could morph into a kiss of death, Doha is flaunting even closer ties to Tehran.
Sunday 02/12/2018
Into Iran’s orbit. An Iranian woman walks past a Qatar Airways branch in Tehran. (AFP)
Into Iran’s orbit. An Iranian woman walks past a Qatar Airways branch in Tehran. (AFP)

Despite US sanctions on Iran, Qatar Airways announced it is boosting its connections to Iranian cities as it will initiate new flights to Isfahan in February and expanding flights to Shiraz and Tehran in January.

“These latest launches are further evidence of Qatar Airways’ commitment to Iran,” boasted Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker.

Heeding US warnings to cease doing business in Iran, many major airlines, including Air France, KLM and British Airways, suspended flights to the country. Not Qatar’s national carrier.

The irony is that Qatar, which has been accused by Saudi Arabia and three Arab allies of maintaining too close ties to Iran, is doing exactly that. Doha, which shares the exploitation of a gas field with Iran, is multiplying initiatives in the direction of Tehran.

Qatar said it was considering co-hosting some of the FIFA World Cup teams with Iran and has endured an abundance of problems regarding to the tournament. These include the suspected use of questionable propaganda methods to tarnish the reputation of rivals to host the games and accusations of illegal practices.

Qatar dismissed the criticism as false allegations and sour grapes.

The idea of co-hosting the World Cup was naturally welcomed by Iranian officials, who see it as an opportunity to break out of their dire isolation. Iranian Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Masoud Soltanifar was quoted as saying Tehran could put whole islands at World Cup organisers’ disposal.

“We can assist with training facilities before the World Cup, especially with areas that provide similar climates to that of Qatar,” he said in an interview on state TV.

Let’s call it as it is. Having the privilege of hosting the World Cup, the largest and most popular sporting event in the world, should not go, directly or indirectly, to mullah-dominated dictatorships suspected of hatching terror plots. Simple as that.

Whatever the commercial imperatives, Qatar would be helping Iran break out of its US-imposed isolation by intensifying airline connections. Washington is unlikely to be amused nor will Iran’s Gulf neighbours.

The moves will intensify acrimony between Qatar and the four Arab countries that imposed sweeping diplomatic sanctions and a travel ban against Qatar in June 2017. The three Gulf countries and Egypt accused Qatar of supporting radical Islamist groups and maintaining close ties to Tehran.

Qatar denied the charges, alleging that the so-called Arab Quartet is seeking regime change in Doha. As if to vindicate its critics, the Qatari leadership is considering playing footsie with Iran.

Obviously not worried that its strange embrace of Iran could morph into a kiss of death, Doha is flaunting even closer ties to Tehran.

Its recent moves will predictably be perceived by its neighbours as blatant provocations because Iran has never stopped its display of aggressive designs, directly or through regional proxies.

There is no rationale for Doha’s accumulation of what seem like its self-inflicted wounds, except maybe hubris. Qatar seems to arrogantly believe that, with US-Turkish military protection, it does not need to care about how its neighbours feel about regional peace and security.

Qatar’s odd alliance with Iran will breed more tensions in the region. It might prove to be a shortsighted investment in turbulent politics when it should have been investing in friendlier skies.

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