The unwise rapprochement between Doha and Tehran
It has been about 16 weeks since the Gulf states cut ties with Qatar, in stinging rebuke for its support for regionally destabilising policies and forces and its pursuit of an imprudently close relationship with sectarian, meddlesome Iran.
One might have thought that four months would have been long enough for Qatar to reflect, reconsider its risk-laden approach to regional affairs and seek to repair its relationship with its neighbours.
Theoretically, Iran, too, might have used the period to mend its ways and to try to mend fences in the region.
Not so. Instead, Tehran seems more interested in thumbing its nose at the United States by engaging in ballistic missile tests and continuing its interference in regional conflicts.
Against this background comes the odd rapprochement between Qatar and Iran. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Doha. The stated agenda was the strengthening of bilateral “cooperation.” The unstated one was to show that Qatar can antagonise Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain without incurring any consequences.
The Arab quartet has many times drawn Doha’s attention to the inherent dangers of its misguided proximity to Tehran. It has asked Qatar to commit to other principles, which include denying financing and safe havens to terrorist groups, stopping incitement of hatred and violence and refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.
Qatar has made no move to do any of that. Instead, in late August, Doha announced its decision to “strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields.” It also said that it was returning its ambassador to Tehran after a 19-month hiatus.
With unintentional irony, Zarif stood in Doha and declared that “none of the regional crises have a military solution,” which is rich considering that Iran’s appetite for military meddling seems to know no bounds. It continually violates UN embargoes on arming Hezbollah in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen and it continues to foment mischief in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.
So how to read the rapprochement between Qatar and Iran? As exceedingly unwise and profoundly unhelpful to regional stability. This course of action may be a source of immediate gratification for Tehran and Doha but, in fact, it is wantonly provocative. As experts on the region point out, the citizens of Qatar — just as in the rest of the Arab world — don’t want to continue the row with the Gulf states but to settle it amicably.
David Pollock, formerly the US government’s chief pollster for the Middle East, recently pointed to a publicly available independent political survey of Qatar’s approximately 300,000 citizens. He noted that the survey, which was conducted in August by a leading professional Arab market research firm, said that 81% of Qataris asked said they were inclined to a compromise; 79% opposed Iran’s regional policies; 90% rated Hezbollah and the Houthis negatively and a narrow majority (53%) insisted “the most important issue in this situation is to find the maximum degree of Arab cooperation against Iran.”
What this means is clear: Qatar’s own people dispute the wisdom of their leadership’s pugnacious chosen path. It indicates that Doha may think it’s being clever by cosying up to Tehran but it is courting instability at home by ignoring domestic and regional disapproval of its policies.