Not only did the statements from Iranian and Turkish officials during the Doha Forum recently, underline simmering tension within the Arab Gulf region and its US ally, they demonstrated Qatar’s risk of breaking away from the Arab orbit and posing a serious threat to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, according to experts.
In a sign of transforming the forum into a platform to divide the Arab Gulf countries and blasting the Arab treaties, Iranian and Turkish officials engaged in slamming the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and its allies.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday said US sanctions would have no impact on the policies of the Islamic Republic at home or abroad.
“It is obvious that we are facing pressure by the US sanctions. But will that lead to a change in policy? I can assure you it won’t,” Zarif told the Doha Forum policy conference in Qatar.
“If there is an art we have perfected in Iran and can teach to others for a price, it is the art of evading sanctions,” he added.
Discussing the Yemen conflict, Zarif said that the Houthi militias have enough weapons, adding that there were only “allegations” that Iran had sent weapons to Yemen.
“Those are American-made jets and those are Saudi fighters, I assume, which are piloting those jets,” Zarif said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu on Saturday also criticized Saudi Arabia and the sanctions imposed on Qatar by its main four Arab neighbors.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the 18th Doha Forum, Çavuşoglu said the sanctions targeting the country is “unacceptable… these issues will be resolved as soon as possible”.
The Turkish FM’s statements follow campaigns against the GCC in Turkish media.
Turkey’s military offence on the east of Euphrates River would also mean a defeat for the GCC, columnist Ibrahim Karagul said in pro-government Yeni Şafak daily on Saturday.
“Whatever the price to be paid, even if it means suicide, this operation should be launched,” Karagul added.
New wave of attacks
The new wave of attacks against the GCC, launched from Qatar, follows Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s decision to skip the annual GCC summit in Riyadh.
While the Qatari moves have been depicted as “symbolic” by Doha and as “insignificant” political maneuvers by its embittered neighbors, they reflect Qatar’s shifting foreign policy that has been dubious and counterintuitive according to Iman Zayat, the Managing Editor of The Arab Weekly.
She added in a piece that Doha has gradually slid into an unofficial yet open alliance with Iran, the arch-rival of the GCC, and Turkey, one of the few remaining havens for Islamist groups, notably the Muslim Brotherhood.
Iran, Turkey and Qatar quietly struck a deal in late November in Tehran to create a “joint working group to facilitate the transit of goods between the three countries.” While the agreement seemed like a modest effort to streamline trade flow to Qatar, which can no longer access air, land and sea routes to neighboring Arab countries, it has proven to be a mechanism to further the agendas of Ankara and Tehran, which are at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia, the piece added.
It showed that the Qatar-Iran entente, previously concealed, is out in the open. To put it simply: Qatar has irrevocably joined with Ankara and Tehran against its former Arab allies. It has conclusively positioned itself in a regional alliance that pursues geopolitical dominance by driving instability, Zayat added.
While Tehran has tried to resurrect a Persian Shia empire through supporting proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere, Ankara has struggled to rediscover the glory of the Ottoman Empire by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups as they sow division in Arab countries and weaken their social fabric, the article added.
This not only represents a threat to the GCC and the Arab world, it also jeopardizes the US interests in making the sanctions work.
The two countries’ trade volume topped $8 bln over the May-October 2018 period and is expected to rise to $12 bln by March next year, Chairman of Iran-Turkey Chamber of Commerce Reza Kami said.
Beyond trade, Ankara and Tehran share key political objectives. Both countries, for example, view the Kurdish presence near their borders as a threat to their strategic interests and territorial integrity. They are engaged in fierce competition with Riyadh over primacy in the Arab Gulf and the wider Middle East, a battle that has played out in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Africa.
Both states hope to continue playing their respective roles as key powers in the region and they regard their cooperation as a means to this end, at least in the short term, according to Zayat.
‘Playing with fire’
By continuing this course, Qatar is playing with fire, not only because its foreign policy objectives are precarious but because it is antagonizing its neighbors and driving the country into isolation, according to Zayat.
On Saturday, Qatar called for a new alliance that would replace the four-decade-old Gulf Cooperation Council.
“The regional alliance has been undermined,” Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told policymakers at the two-day Doha Forum.
Instead of blaming his government for not reacting to demands made by the majority of the council’ members, the minister said the GCC had “no teeth” to resolve any dispute.
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