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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Doha’s ties to Tehran confounds reasonable people

By cosying up to the instigator of unrest in the region, Qatar continues the crisis

Qatar currently not only rejects unity, it runs towards fragmentation. Naseem Zeitoon / Reuters
Qatar currently not only rejects unity, it runs towards fragmentation. Naseem Zeitoon / Reuters

Decision-making in Qatar confounds reasonable people rather than leading to clarity and the swift resolution of the crisis it sparked in the Gulf. The latest example was Doha’s decision to restore full diplomatic relations with Iran and to strengthen ties with that country “in all fields”. Instead of heeding calls by its neighbours for unity, Qatar is rushing into a deeper embrace with one of the largest sources of insecurity and threat in the region, whether in Syria, Yemen or anywhere else that blood and treasure are expended. Indeed, one is tempted to ask whether Doha is trying to perpetuate the crisis. To be sure, Qatar’s decision to return its ambassador to Tehran is an indication of its isolation. Yet that doesn’t have to be so. It has been handed a series of reasonable options for it to return to the fold. The Quartet wants nothing more than a restoration of traditional amity throughout the southern shores of the Arabian Gulf. But only if Qatar ceases its mischief-making.

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The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, put it aptly in a series of tweets on Friday. Dr Gargash rightly described Qatar’s action as an embarrassment, one that “reveals its political tactics”. It squanders its sovereignty – the very thing it says it is attempting to protect by not acceding to the Quartet’s demands. The truth is, of course, that it willingly squanders its sovereignty to Iran, while its own actions interferes with the sovereignty of its neighbours. For what Iran seeks to do is to fragment GCC unity. Since Qatar’s standoff with the Quartet began in June, Iran has played off one side against the other by, among other things, allowing Qatari planes to use its airspace. Indeed, the return of Qatar’s envoy to Tehran contradicts its previous act of solidarity with Riyadh last year when two of Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic stations in Iran were attacked. As one writer put it, this is siding “with the cousin at the expense of the brother”.

Doha is forgetting a simple truth, that actions such as the ones it has taken are hard to undo. They can have far-reaching consequences on the geopolitical landscape. Indeed, surely it understands that no good can come from warming up to Tehran, whose recent history clearly shows it to be a regime that thrives on manipulation in pursuit of regional hegemony. Nevertheless, the possibility to walk back to brotherly ties with the Quartet remains. The offer stands. If only Qatar were to agree.