Qatar once again proves itself no friend of stability

Over the weekend, disturbing reports emerged suggesting Qatar had advanced knowledge of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) targeted attacks on international assets in the Persian Gulf earlier this year.

The western intelligence report cited “credible” evidence that “the IRGC-Quds Forces Naval unit is responsible for the Fujairah Port attacks, and the elements of civilian government of Iran, as well as the State of Qatar, were aware of the IRGC’s activities.”

The incident on May 12 that saw two Saudi-flagged, a Norwegian-flagged, and an Emirati-flagged vessel damaged in UAE territorial waters was one of the summer’s lead international news stories. The tension it stoked presented the region with very real security concerns.

Had the Qataris known but failed to inform their supposed allies, then it begs one simple question: why not?

There have long been warning signs that Doha’s pledges of alliance with the West ring hollow. We’re confronted with continued evidence of their support for hardline Islamist groups, such as recent allegations against the Qatari owned Al-Rayan bank and its role in funding extremism. Qatar has also emerged as the key backer of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in Gaza. These are not the footprints of a government committed to meaningful action against ideologies of hate.

The latest development, however, is of a different nature. This is not the broader decrying of the Gulf emirate’s lack of commitment to tackling Islamist extremism. Instead it raises the prospect of Qatar having specific, prior knowledge of an imminent attack against Western and allied forces which threatened the safety of innocent sailors and doing nothing about it.

To point to the absence of fatalities in these incidents and thus seek to play down the gravity of the revelation would be a fatal error of judgement. Qatar couldn’t have known that the IRGC’s reckless destruction wouldn’t cause fatalities. And yet they allowed for Iranian agents to carry out acts of sabotage unimpeded. It speaks of a lack of intent to see violent, Iranian-backed action – be it direct or via Shiite terror proxies in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq – ended across the region.

It also implies indifference towards violence against peaceful commercial operations. Undoubtedly, the Iranians wanted to send a message in light of the intense strain of America’s maximum pressure campaign. The message is ‘your ships will not be safe’. Iranian officials have repeatedly warned they would block the Strait of Hormuz – through which a third of the world’s oil is transported – in response to crippling U.S. sanctions.

Qatar failing to warn international allies suggests the mullahs now have a complicit partner, or at least a nation that won’t stand in their way. It also fits with Doha’s wider duplicitous approach to diplomacy. Profess to fight terrorism yet fund and protect extremists. Seek to improve relations with the global Jewish community yet finance an explicitly anti-Semitic Al Jazeera documentary on the ‘Israel lobby’. Desire close relations with America yet cosy up to Tehran.

The problem with Doha boils down to their belief that their support for designated terrorist organisations and tyrannical regimes does not appear to be hindering its flourishing relationship with the West. It’s therefore critical to remember that one the motivating factors behind the Arab Quartet’s more than two-year boycott of the tiny, gas-rich nation was Qatar’s increasingly close political relationship with the Iranian regime.

However, almost all European governments have dismissed those concerns, still clinging to a JCPOA mindset of giving Tehran the benefit of doubt. Those dismissals have seen the West overlook bold Iranian aggression – sanctioned by Qatar – that now extend to endangering maritime security.

Hopefully, the revelation that Qatar has been silently complicit in Iranian attacks against Western and allied assets will wake some governments up. The evidence is there for all to see: The government in Doha cannot be trusted.

About the Author
Julie Lenarz is Director of the London-based Human Security Centre and speaks widely across the media on terror and radicalisation.
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