Qatar’s condolences over Soleimani show ‘dangerous’ drift towards Iran: Expert

Iranian President Rouhani welcomes Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Tehran on Jan. 4, 2020. (Photo: AP)

The drone responsible for killing Iran’s top military commander Qassem Soleimani took off from a US air base in Qatar, media reports revealed citing military sources, whose foreign minister then traveled to Iran offering condolences for his death.

Qatar’s contradictory policy moves – at once hosting the aircraft that attacked the Iranian commander and then apologizing for it – demonstrate the Qatari leadership’s “extremely dangerous” drift towards Iran, according to expert Varsha Koduvayur, a senior research analyst at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“On the one hand, Qatar hosts US forces at al-Udeid air base. But on the other hand, they prop up and fund scores of terror groups throughout the Middle East diametrically opposed to US interests, and work hand in hand with countries that seek to damage the US’s interests in the region,” said Koduvayur in an interview.

Illustration: Projected flight path of US drone from al-Udeid to Baghdad:

Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani traveled to Tehran on Saturday and offered condolences to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the killing of Soleimani, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

“We consider ourselves on Iran’s side. We did not, at all, expect such a thing to happen, or that such a decision would ever be taken. Such actions are unprecedented, and we are very sad and concerned about this,” al-Thani, who also met with his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javad Zarif, was quoted as saying.

Attempting to play two contradictory sides is Qatar’s foreign policy strategy, according to Koduvayur.

By hosting the main US presence in the region, Qatar gets “immense security benefits” and “hopes that by providing the base it will convince the US to overlook all of its malign behavior,” added Koduvayur, citing Qatari state-funded Al Jazeera’s “anti-American” rhetoric as one example.

About 10,000 US military personnel are housed at Qatar’s al-Udeid air base, the largest US military facility in the Middle East.

Since the 1991 Gulf War, the Al-Udeid Air Base has been used to command fighter jets and other Air Force assets in the region.

But in September for the first time in 13 years, the US moved the command and control center from Qatar to the Shaw Air Base in South Carolina.

At the time US Air Force officials told The Washington Post recent incidents in the Middle East involving Iran added urgency to moving its functions to a different base, which had been a long-held goal of the military.

“Iran has indicated multiple times through multiple sources their intent to attack US forces,” said Colonel Frederick Coleman, commander of the 609th Air and Space Operations Center, in an interview with The Washington Post.

Qatar’s links to Iran have blossomed since 2017, according to Koduvayur, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic, trade and transport ties with the country, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies that charge.

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