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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Qatar cannot evade accountability by embracing Iran

Doha's protestations of innocence are belied by its egregious actions, writes Con Coughlin

An image posted on social media in April showed Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister and interior minister, attending the wedding of the son of Abdulrahman Al Nuaimi, a man designated by the US and the UN as a terrorist financier. 
An image posted on social media in April showed Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Qatari prime minister and interior minister, attending the wedding of the son of Abdulrahman Al Nuaimi, a man designated by the US and the UN as a terrorist financier. 

In the year since the quartet of Arab states severed ties with Qatar over its support for international terrorism, it has often appeared as though the Qataris have been living in a parallel universe. Despite the compelling evidence that has emerged to demonstrate Qatar’s support for a wide range of Islamist-inspired terror groups, the Qataris have blithely continued to maintain their long-established links with a motley crew of terrorists and extremists as though nothing had happened.

Perhaps the best example of Qatar’s refusal to acknowledge the error of its ways were the pictures that emerged earlier this year of senior members of the Qatari government attending the wedding of the son of Abdulrahman Al Nuaimi, who has been denounced by both the US and the UN as being one of the world’s leading financiers of terrorism.

Despite Doha’s insistence that it does not tolerate terrorists, there are now at least five individuals who have been listed by the US and UN as financiers of terrorism who are resident in Qatar, some of whom have been accused of directly funding Al Qaeda.

In addition, Qatar continues to play host to radical hate preachers, such as Yousef Al Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qaradawi, who is banned from entering Britain, memorably celebrated Eid last year with the Qatari Emir.

Other embarrassing details about the depth and breadth of Qatar’s links to Islamist terror groups around the world have been made public following the disclosure of a number of emails from senior officials in the Qatari government that links them directly to leading members of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, as well as senior commanders in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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The emails demonstrate beyond doubt that the Qataris are on friendly terms with key figures in the Revolutionary Guard Corps such as Qassem Suleimani, the influential commander of the Quds Force, as well as Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah.

In one of the emails, a senior Qatari official reported that he had paid more than $50 million to Mr Suleimani, while another showed the Qataris paying $25 million to an Iraqi Shi’ite organisation that has been accused of killing scores of American troops in southern Iraq.

In addition the Qataris have continued their funding for outlawed groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, while maintaining their support for radical Islamist groups in Syria such as the Nusra front.

In essence, the Qataris have conducted themselves over the past year as though the diplomatic boycott had never taken place. And, even more bizarrely, while continuing their support for all of these internationally-recognised terrorist organisations, the Qataris have all the time continued to protest that they are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Back in April the Emir of Qatar had the temerity to tell US president Donald Trump that “we do not tolerate people who fund and support terrorism”. A few days later senior members of his government were seen cavorting with the Al Nuaimi clan. Then, in a BBC interview, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s foreign minister, attempted to blame the quartet for causing the diplomatic rift, claiming their accusations were being made because they wanted “to draw the picture of a terrorist on anyone who is different from them”.

Not surprisingly, the Qataris’ collective state of denial that they have been involved in any form of wrongdoing has meant they have made no effort to respond positively to the list of the quartet’s 13 demands, which are seen as essential to resolving the dispute. Indeed, if recent behaviour is anything to go by, the Qataris seem intent on drawing out the dispute by continuing to indulge in provocative behaviour, such as their recent decision to invite 70 Iranian officials and businessmen to travel to Doha last month to reaffirm the close bilateral ties between the two countries.

While the Qataris insisted the summit was aimed at developing closer trade ties, the real purpose of the mission was explained by the Revolutionary Guard deputy commander, Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri, who said that “we are doing our best to have stronger relations with Doha”.

But while the Qataris might congratulate themselves that, despite the considerable hardships they have endured as a result of the quartet’s action, they have still managed to maintain their association with terrorists and extremists, they need to be aware of the fact, for all their efforts, the tide of history in the Middle East is slowly turning against them.

The destruction of the self-styled "caliphate" established by ISIS represents a significant setback for all the Qatari-financed extremist groups who supported its radical agenda. Now, with the caliphate no more, there is a growing awareness throughout the region that the days are numbered for groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, which are finding it increasingly difficult to attract impressionable and vulnerable young Muslims to their ranks. Even in the discredited world of Islamist extremism, no one likes a loser.

The other game-changer so far as Qatar is concerned is the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, and Washington’s determination, as most recently articulated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to hold Tehran to account for its constant malign meddling in the affairs of the Arab world.

In its desperation to escape the more punitive effects of the various measures taken by the quartet, Qatar has increasingly turned to Iran for assistance. For example, it is questionable whether Qatar Airways would still be in business had not the Iranians decided to allow the carrier access to Iranian airspace.

But seeking help from Iran could prove to be a very costly mistake indeed for Doha if, as seems increasingly likely, Washington turns its formidable economic, diplomatic and military firepower on Iran and states, like Qatar, that are deemed to be allies of the ayatollahs.

Con Coughlin is the Daily Telegraph’s defence and foreign affairs editor