How Qatar prolonged the Syrian crisis

Hassan Al Mustafa

Published: Updated:

Less than a year after the first spark of the Arab Spring developments, I was in a closed door meeting with a Gulf minister. He resentfully talked about Qatar’s foreign policy and described how they were involved in what he called “Qatari loitering”.

According to him, they do not only pose a threat to his country but also to the entire region because they support “political Islamist” groups and negatively play on contradictions.

This opinion and other similar statements were a result of Doha’s violation of the policy agreed upon among the parties, which support the opposition in Syria. These parties had agreed on a specific and official channel that is internationally supervised to train and support fighters from among “the moderate opposition” and whom the Free Syrian Army is its backbone.

The “joint operations’ room” in the Jordanian capital Amman, and its other branch in Turkey, were a small cell that included military and intelligence officers and political representatives from the US, Britain, France and Arab countries that included Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Jordan in addition to Turkey. These representatives met periodically while officers continuously worked in rotation.

The Saudis believe that Doha is playing a “destructive” role that has prolonged the conflict in Syria, which is helping fundamentalist, making them stronger than other moderate factions

Hassan Al Mustafa

Coordinating operations

This room’s major tasks were training on martial arts and special operations and supplying the opposition with military equipment, gathering information and coordinating among fighters.

The room operated based on a specific agenda, which hoped that the moderate opposition controls areas which the Syrian regime troops withdraw from so they do not fall in the hands of fundamental groups like ISIS and al-Nusra Front.

A Saudi official who follows up on Syrian developments once told me: “We’ve seen the repercussions of the September 11, 2001 twin attacks and how they led to a crisis with the US due to a bunch of extremist terrorists. We do not want this crisis to happen again.”

He added that Saudi Arabia made a clear and frank decision not to support “extremist Islamic groups” in Syria. But was Riyadh’s anger over Doha the result of what happened next?

This same Saudi official said that instead of committing to the agreement reached between countries that support the Syrian opposition, Qatar began to fund, arm and support groups outside the context of “the operations’ room.” Certain parties coordinated this support sometimes while at other times they simply overlooked it.

Evading questions

The Qatari representative used to evade questions or “work on his phone” or just “keep silent” when he was confronted with truth or with proof that his government armed “fundamentalist” groups in Syria.

This is not limited to one or two incidents but happened frequently. This made Riyadh take a clear position, suspending its participation in the operations’ room back then.

This was one of the reasons behind the problem between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria. The Saudis believe that Doha is playing a “destructive” role that has prolonged the conflict in Syria, which is helping fundamentalist, making them stronger than other moderate factions. This poses threat to the entire Middle East region.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.

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