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01/25/2020

Qatar’s new role in the Middle East

Qatar’s new role in the Middle East

Regular meetings between Irani and Qatari officials have led to heavy speculation, particularly considering that tensions between Tehran-Washington have reached their apex. Some suspect that Qatar may have played a role in General Soleimani’s assassination, while others believe the country is preparing to play a mediating role between the US and Iran. In any event, it is clear that the country is poised to begin playing a critical role in the Middle East.

 

THE QATARI EMIR’S VISIT TO IRAN

The Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, for the first time since assuming power in 2013, made a state visit to Iran where he met with the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic and the country’s president.

Qatar has made it clear that Iran is central to its Middle East policy decisions. As a result of Qatar’s continuing strained relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Doha has decided to further strengthen its ties with Iran. Last week, for the first time in years, the Qatari emir hosted Iran’s minister of foreign affairs. Following the US’ assassination of Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani, the Qatari minister of foreign affairs traveled to Tehran to express his sympathy.

While the Iranian and Qatari officials frequent visits are not strange in their own right, the current turmoil in the region has begun to attract attention to them.

After decades of brinkmanship, the conflict between the US and Iran seems to have reached its breaking point, sparking widespread anxiety across the Middle East. Other countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Egypt have tried to avoid being dragged into the conflict between the long-time rivals. Qatar, on the other hand, has openly and provocatively inserted itself into the dispute.

This is why Qatari officials’ recent trips to Tehran have garnered heightened attention.After the Qatari emir’s trip to Tehran, the Qatari minister of foreign affairs, Mohammad bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, traveled to Iraq. Al-Thani said the trip was motivated by his desire to help reduce tensions in the region.

 

IRAN, QATAR AND THE ASSASSINATION OF QASSEM SOLEIMANI

Al-Arabiya reported that Soleimani’s assassination was launched from the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The drone that carried out the attack was launched by CENTCOM in Qatar four hours before the assassination took place.

 

If this information proves true, it suggests that Qatari officials have been traveling to Iran to maintain the illusion of affability.

There is a great deal of speculation on the subject because the concrete details of the US’ attack, including which country it was launched from, are still unknown.

 

IS MEDIATION BETWEEN IRAN AND THE US POSSIBLE?

In the wake of Iran’s missile-attack on the Ayn Al-Asad Air Base in the Iraqi Province of Al Anbar, the Qatari emir’s travels to Tehran can be seen in a different light.

It is also worth noting that Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani traveled to Tehran shortly after the death of Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Sultan Qaboos had played a major role as a mediator in various conflicts throughout the Middle East, such as the Saudi-Qatari negotiations in 2017 and the previous US – Iran talks.

 

Washington had pinned its hopes on Sultan Qaboos playing a mediatory role given the severity of the situation. His involvement could have halted the expansion of Iranian attacks against US positions in the Middle East.

The Wall Street Journal reports that US President Donald Trump is now asking the Qatari emir to serve as a mediator between Washington and Tehran after unsuccessful attempts by France, Japan, Oman and Pakistan.

Things, however, have calmed down for the time being. The imminent US presidential elections and the downing of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran have complicated the issue. Compared to how bleak things seemed only a few months ago, it seems that Qatar has succeeded in its role as mediator.

 

QATAR’S ROLE IN THE RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

The Qatari emir is likely to take over the role that Sultan Qaboos had formerly in the region, but will he be able to do so effectively?

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has been attempting to facilitate peace talks between the US, the Taliban and the Afghan government. The initiative, however, proved unsuccessful, unlike those by former Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, whose efforts helped resolve domestic political disputes in Lebanon in 2008.

At that time, the Qatari emir attempted to facilitate improved relations between Washington and Ankara without results. In 2015, Qatar also attempted to reduce tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but this initiative failed as well.

Mediation in the international arena requires that the mediator have friendly relations with the parties involved in the dispute and Sultan Qaboos managed to maintain good relations with most of the countries in the region. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on the other hand, has poor relations with many of the Gulf States.

However, things are different when it comes to Iran and America. Doha has good relations with both of these countries and has every reason to help reduce tensions.

 

The Qataris are the best alternative for mediation, at least in this case. If they are successful, it will open a new chapter for the country in the Middle East and improve their position in the international arena.

QATAR’S POTENTIAL TO IMPROVE ITS STATUS IN THE REGION

In the wake of tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Qataris found themselves at the brink of war, pushing the country to improve relations with Turkey, Iran and Russia.

The Qatari emir must now work to keep the threat of war at bay, while fighting to upgrade his country’s status in the region.

Qatar is smaller than the other countries in the region, and has a smaller population. These factors both work in favor of Qatar’s rivals. In terms of its military prowess, Qatar is also low on the list of Middle Eastern states.

However, the country is ranked third in terms of economic freedom, making up for its limited military power with its robust economy.

Doha has two other factors in its favor. This country is ranked second in the region on the Fragile States Index, highlighting its effective policies in the fields of economics, politics, diplomacy and culture. Qatar also stands first in the regional states in the Global Peace Index.

These factors indicate that Qatari politicians have the chance to promote progress and improve Qatar’s status in the Mideast, in spite of the country’s limitations. Qatar is likely to play a more important role in the near future as it continues to draw closer to Turkey and Iran.

 

REFERENCES OF CHART:

  1. Military Strength https://www.globalfirepower.com/countries-listing-middle-east.asp
  2. Sovereign wealth fund https://www.swfinstitute.org/fund-rankings/sovereign-wealth-fund
  3. Economic freedom https://www.heritage.org/index/ranking
  4. Fragile States Index https://fundforpeace.org/2019/04/10/fragile-states-index-2019/
  5. Global Peace Index http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2019/06/GPI-2019-web003.pdf
  6. Population https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=QA&most_recent_year_desc=true
  7. Area https://www.worldometers.info/geography/largest-countries-in-the-world/
 
Mani Mehrabi
Senior international affairs analyst, Faculty member at the Think tank of International Relations (Tehran, Iran)

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