Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and author of Under the Black Flag (IB Tauris, 2015). He is a former Carnegie scholar and founding chairman of the Damascus History Foundation.

  • Qatar’s Iran connection a factor in the Gulf crisis, On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • Even with Israel, old amity is eroding, On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • Syrian opposition wary of Qatar crisis fallouts, On: Sun, 11 Jun 2017

  • Qatar’s bears brunt of its support to Muslim Brotherhood, On: Sun, 04 Jun 2017

  • Conflicting strategies on the way to Raqqa, On: Sun, 04 Jun 2017

  • Erdogan’s Ottoman visions in Syria , On: Sun, 28 May 2017

  • Progress but questions remain after Washington and Astana, On: Sun, 21 May 2017

  • 69 years on, al-Nakba is history and Iran is the Arabs’ enemy, On: Sun, 14 May 2017

  • Syria’s population transfers cause sectarian upheaval, On: Sun, 07 May 2017

  • Trump’s U-turn on Syria checks Iranian ambitions , On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • From the grave, Qabbani’s poems lay bare Syria’s agony, On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • As Syria war grinds on, no good options for Putin and friends , On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • Trump’s Tomahawks and the Abu Nidal factor , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • The day after the battle for Syrian city of Raqqa , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • Syria’s refugees face limited choices now and likely in the future , On: Sun, 09 Apr 2017

  • Erdogan’s pact with Putin changes war in Syria , On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • Russia calls the shots at Syria talks but peace is no closer , On: Sun, 02 Apr 2017

  • After six years of war, Syria is an economic basket case, On: Sun, 26 Mar 2017

  • Trump, Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood, On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • Turkey threatens as US deploys troops in Syria , On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • Trump feels his way through Syria’s labyrinth , On: Sun, 12 Feb 2017

  • Assad eyeing Hamas split over Syria , On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • For Syria’s millions of refugees, no future and no hope, On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • Astana talks change the rules on Syria negotiations , On: Sun, 29 Jan 2017

  • Assad’s new strategy: Wooing back defectors , On: Sun, 22 Jan 2017

  • Damascus goes dry as Syria’s grim water wars intensify , On: Sun, 15 Jan 2017

  • Guterres faces Herculean task of rescuing UN, On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • Putin seeks to be peacemaker in Syria — on his terms , On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • ‘Reconciliation’ part of Syria’s post-war education system, On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • Assad walls off West with BRICS and then there’s Trump , On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • ISIS and Putin’s Machiavellian endgame in Syria , On: Sun, 11 Dec 2016

  • Moscow seeks talks with Syrian rebels to overturn UN effort , On: Sun, 04 Dec 2016

  • Why ISIS and Baghdadi will survive losing Mosul, Raqqa, On: Sun, 27 Nov 2016

  • Warring rivals struggle to unravel Trump’s Syria policy , On: Sun, 20 Nov 2016

  • Hariri walks the tightrope again as Aoun’s prime minister, On: Sun, 13 Nov 2016

  • As war reaches stalemate, Syrians are left to mull a federal solution , On: Sun, 06 Nov 2016

  • Lausanne flops as Russians buy time to crush Aleppo, On: Sun, 23 Oct 2016

  • Putin determined to crush Aleppo — and who’s to stop him? , On: Sun, 16 Oct 2016

  • Plagues, conquests and disasters: Aleppo’s unending troubles, On: Sun, 09 Oct 2016

  • Qatar’s Iran connection a factor in the Gulf crisis

    Clearly, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wanted to position himself as a guardian of Qatari interests.

    Common interests. An Iranian man walks past a Qatar Airways branch in Tehran, on June 6. (AFP)


    2017/06/18 Issue: 111 Page: 3



    Beirut- Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the 37-year-old emir of Qatar, is no fool. He realises that neither his country’s size nor its geography will allow it to win any economic or political wars with Saudi Arabia. With that in mind, observers expected him to climb down three weeks ago, long before the present crisis climaxed with Ri­yadh.

    Instead, Sheikh Tamim buckled up to the Saudis, speaking politely yet defiantly, refusing to abide by their long list of demands, which include severing relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran while closing Doha’s television channel Al Jazeera.

    Someone is apparently whisper­ing into Sheikh Tamim’s ear, telling him to stand up to the Saudis, while giving assurances that he will nei­ther be toppled nor defeated. The Jeddah-based daily Okaz reported that someone is General Qassem Soleimani, commander of al-Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

    Soleimani met with Qatari For­eign Minister Mohammad bin Ab­dulrahman al-Thani in Baghdad hours after US President Donald Trump wrapped up a visit to Saudi Arabia. The story was probably a tip-off from Saudi intelligence, which often leaks news through Okaz, a reliable newspaper in Saudi Arabia.

    Sharing its maritime border with Iran, Qatar has always been friends with Tehran, even before the Irani­an Revolution of 1979. The Qataris stood neutral during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, refusing to side with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in his deadly conflict with Tehran.

    When Iraq attacked Iranian oil fields in 1983, coming dangerous­ly close to the Qatari coast, Doha erected barriers to avoid getting dragged into the conflict and did not say a word that was critical of Tehran. After the war ended, the Iranians stood up for Qatar during an island dispute with Bahrain and, more recently, Doha refrained from accusing Iran of interfering in Bah­raini domestic affairs and encour­aging a Shia uprising against Saudi-backed rulers in January 2011.

    The bilateral relationship has always been motivated by com­mon economic interests, such as joint ownership of the largest inde­pendent gas reservoir in the world, which since the early 1990s has made Qatar one of the richest coun­tries on the planet. Qatar owns 13% of the world’s proven natural gas reserves and, from its section of the field, produces 650 million cu­bic metres of gas per day, while Iran cranks out 575 million cubic metres per day from the same gas field. That in itself is enough to prevent the Qataris from picking a fight with Iran to please Saudi Arabia.

    Qatar’s former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani made Tehran his first foreign visit destination af­ter assuming power in a bloodless coup in 1995. Since its inception in the mid-1990s, Al Jazeera has never been critical of Iran’s foreign policy or human rights record and it has never meddled with Iranian domestic affairs.

    Before the outbreak of the Syria war in 2011, Sheikh Hamad had been exceptionally close to Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. When violence erupted in Beirut in May 2008, he played the arbitrator, in­viting all Lebanese factions to sign the Doha Agreement, ending the gridlock and facilitating the elec­tion of Hezbollah’s ally at the time, General Michel Suleiman, to the Lebanese presidency.

    Qatar also pledged to rebuild four Hezbollah-controlled Leba­nese towns destroyed by the Is­raelis in 2006, prompting the mili­tary group to raise signs that read: “Thank you, Qatar.”

    In the summer of 2010, Sheikh Hamad visited southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, and was greeted and escorted with grand festivity by Hezbollah MPs and cabinet ministers. That same year, Qatar and Iran signed agreements on intelligence sharing, security cooperation and joint training fields for their armies.

    For obvious reasons, the Irani­ans are getting a good laugh out of the Saudi-Qatari rift, with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Ja­vad Zarif condescendingly tweet­ing on June 5: “Neighbours are permanent; geography cannot be changed. Coercion is never a solu­tion. Dialogue is imperative, espe­cially during blessed Ramadan.”

    Clearly, he wanted to position himself as a guardian of Qatari in­terests while lecturing Saudi Ara­bia on “good neighbour” politics — words that enraged the rulers of Riyadh. Adding insult to injury, Ira­nian media trumpeted a telephone call between Sheikh Hamad and Iranian President Hassan Rohani, congratulating the latter on his re­cent re-election.

    Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had proposed an “Islamic NATO,” which was supposed to see the light after the Riyadh Summit. It was aimed at isolating Iran in the Arab and Muslim worlds but it is now dead. The Iranians are fan­ning conflict and sowing discord to deepen tension between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and within the entire Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

    The more Qatar is lectured on what to do with its foreign and do­mestic affairs and the more GCC countries impose sanctions and blockades on its borders, flights and shipping, the closer Doha will cuddle up to the Iranians.

    Iran has sent 600 tonnes of food to Qatar, aimed at defying a block­ade imposed by Saudi Arabia on its land borders and its maritime one ordered by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Politically this means a return to the pre- 2011 status of Qatar, firmly allied with Iran and Syria and with non-state players such as Hamas and Hezbollah, desperately trying to carve out a role for itself within the Persian Gulf.

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Dalal Saoud

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editors: Jonathan Hemming and Richard Pretorius

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    Opinion Section Editor: Claude Salhani

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Levant Section Editor: Jamal J. Halaby

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Senior Correspondents:

    Mahmud el-Shafey (London)

    Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

    Correspondents

    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobeidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Rasha Elass - Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

    Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

    www.alarab.co.uk

    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    66 Hammersmith Road

    London W14 8UD, UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved