Why is Qatar Airways extending more destinations to Iran?

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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, a report in The Arab Weekly has said.

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

According to the report, heeding US warnings to cease doing business in Iran, many major airlines, including Air France, KLM and British Airways, suspended flights to the country. But Qatar’s national carrier has refused to do so.

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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 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, said the report.

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 organizers’ disposal, said the report.

“We can assist with training facilities before the World Cup, especially with areas that provide similar climates to that of Qatar,” he is quoted to have said.

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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 neighbors.

Its recent moves will predictably be perceived by its neighbors 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 neighbors feel about regional peace and security, said the report.

According to the report, 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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