What is Qatar’s position from American security interests in view of its crisis with the anti-terror quartet and the reinstatement of sanctions on Iranian interests?
The Gulf-US policy is united against Iran. America and Gulf Cooperation Council countries agree on the importance of confronting the Iranian threat in the region but it seems Qatar is vacillating on the matter here as there is noticeable Qatar-Iran rapprochement and a great deal of understanding between Iran’s proxies and its armed groups and Qatar. There is also a Houthi-Qatari agreement and an obvious deal between Hezbollah and Qatar. So what does the US think of this policy that’s against US allies and that threatens their security? Does this policy pose a threat to American national security, especially as there are American troops in Qatar? Will the Trump administration allow Qatar to go on with this double standard approach?
Qatar exploiting contradictions
In an analysis published for the Security Studies Group website, Brad Patty — former advisor to the US army units in Iraq on information operations — asks if Qatar can play on the contradictions between Iran and the US like it played on the contradictions between the Taliban and the US.
Patty was referring to the role of diplomatic mediation which allowed Qatar to secure some gains during the war in Afghanistan. By maintaining relations between the two parties, Qatar was granted a bridge of communications between them, i.e. between the Americans and Taliban, to be used when needed. It also maintained a similar bridge with Nusra Front in Syria. This was a beneficial “diplomatic” role during the fighting between US troops and armed groups like Taliban and Nusra, as there are no diplomatic missions of these groups to talk to. This is only the role that Qatar plays and which fighters are skeptical about as mediators are always suspected in these circumstances.
The situation is different now that there are American troops on Qatari territories which are not that far from Iran. Qatar’s link with Iran poses a direct threat to these American troops especially as Iran has developed its ballistic missiles’ program and threatens to use it to close the Strait of Hormuz if it’s subjected to any threats. The situation is thus different as it is continuing to play this role, which has become complicated and unacceptable.
The situation got more complicated when the US and the GCC put Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ leaders on terror lists. The US Treasury is threatening to impose more sanctions and may add more Iranian entities on its terror lists. Qatar has hesitated to respond to these measures which aim to restrain Iran. In fact, Qatar plans to become Iran’s financial window in case more sanctions are imposed.
According to FARS news agency, an official at the Iranian Central Bank commented on the payment orders which Iran’s partners must make in foreign currencies and said transactions of payment orders in foreign currencies will develop with Qatar after facing difficulties in making transactions with Dubai.
He added that Bank Melli Iran and Parsian Bank opened accounts at the Qatari Central Bank. According to the plan, Bank Saderat Iran will play a new role in these transactions. Asked if Qatar will become the hub to make transactions to Iran and thus replace Dubai, he said the Central Bank was seeking to achieve this.
As Emir Tamim sat with President Trump in the White House on April 10, Abdulla Al Khanji, the head of the Qatar Ports Management Company (MWANI), was sitting with his Iranian counterpart and issuing a statement promising to remove customs-related obstacles, develop a visa-waiver program and facilitate movement. So will the US accept more economic and commercial ties between Iran and Qatar, while it’s preparing to impose more sanctions on Iran?
Can this game go on? Will the need for this window encourage Qatar to present itself to play this role again?
Will the American administration accept these contradictions as it seems there are different opinions on the matter within the US administration itself, specifically between the State Department and the Pentagon. These different points of view even existed in the Afghan case and the State Department won and kept this role despite the Pentagon’s objection.
The only difference this time is that US troops are present on the “mediator’s” territories which are not that far from the reach of the Iranians’ missiles. So how will it be now that Qatar welcomes this rapprochement with Iran?
This article is also available in Arabic.
Sawsan Al Shaer is a Bahraini writer and journalist. She tweets @sawsanalshaer.