x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 20 August 2017

Doha flaunts links with Iran’s regime

By accepting a phonecall with Tehran, Doha shows it does not want a diplomatic solution

A month ago, as the row between the Gulf states and Qatar was beginning to brew, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani made a highly-publicised phone call to Sheikh Tamim. Lucas Jackson / Reuters
A month ago, as the row between the Gulf states and Qatar was beginning to brew, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani made a highly-publicised phone call to Sheikh Tamim. Lucas Jackson / Reuters

When the phone call from Iran came (again), why did Qatar’s leader Sheikh Tamim agree to take it (again)? A month ago, just as the row between the Gulf states and Qatar was beginning to brew, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani made a highly-publicised phone call to Sheikh Tamim.

From the Iranian side, this was cunning politics. At the moment of dispute between fraternal nations, Iran could jump in and drive a further wedge between the Gulf states, as well as appear as the regional power it likes to pretend to be, by “mediating” in the dispute.

The question is why Sheikh Tamim agreed to take it. He must have realised it would further inflame tensions among the GCC. And indeed, that is exactly what happened. It is certainly arguable that without such a provocative gesture, this dispute might have been possible.

And now Doha is up to the same thing again. Again, the president agreed to take a phonecall from Mr Rouhani, allowing the Iranian national news agency to crow his words that the “siege of Qatar is unacceptable to us. Our country will always be open to Qatar as a brotherly and neighbouring country”.

Gulf observers must wonder if Sheikh Tamim and Qataris are fooled by those words. Certainly other countries in the Gulf are not. The Saudis and Emiratis are well aware that the interference of Iran in supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen has cost them treasure and the blood of their young soldiers. Gulf countries have seen the way Iran has supported the worst sectarian elements in Iraq, destabilising that country and affecting the borders of the GCC.

And it is clear to anyone that Iran’s actions in Bahrain have only brought destabilisation. Surely someone among Sheikh Tamim’s observers must realise that Iran’s expansionist ideology would happily sweep away Doha’s presidential palace, if it got the chance. Indeed, it is only because the Gulf is confronting Iran that its expansion has been halted. Instead of aiding in that fight, Doha has chosen to offer succour to the enemy.

What does Qatar have to gain from this public relations exercise in the long term? Its future must be firmly within the Gulf family. Flaunting its tawdry links with an extremist regime will only do it harm and damage.