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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Qatar must choose sides over Iran

Sheikh Tamim’s high-profile call with Iran’s president sends an unhappy signal
Qatar said hackers posted fake remarks by its emir criticising US foreign policy on Wednesday in an incident that renewed tensions with fellow Gulf Arab nations. Reuters
Qatar said hackers posted fake remarks by its emir criticising US foreign policy on Wednesday in an incident that renewed tensions with fellow Gulf Arab nations. Reuters

Gulf leaders who have spent the past few days irritated at Qatar over the emir’s reported comments will have been incensed to wake up yesterday morning and find that Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had decided to take a widely publicised phone call from a regional leader – the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. When so much of politics is conducted by signals, what sort of message does that send? In truth, much the same message as Qatar has been sending for some time now. That, rather than see itself as part of the GCC, it wishes to remain neutral, half in the Arab Gulf camp, half in Iran’s camp. Actually, the willingness to accept a phone call from Mr Rouhani at this moment would seem to position Qatar further on that side. It shows either a shocking unwillingness to understand his Gulf neighbours – or a dangerous naivete that has allowed Sheikh Tamim to be used by Iran for publicity purposes.

Make no mistake, Iran is enjoying this disagreement. Iranian expansionism relies on Gulf disunity; only when the Gulf is disunited can Iran spread its poison. And this poison comes wrapped in fanciful explanations. Take, for example, the article published in The New York Times last week by Mohammed Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, which sought to portray Iran as a country bringing stability to the region. The fantasy is palpable – or, as Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, tweeted, it depicted “a warped view of the region [that] is both inaccurate and disturbing”.

In this new version of reality, it was Iran that was seeking to stop the spread of sectarianism and extremism in Syria – when in fact its support for the Assad regime has enabled the worst atrocities. Iran, said Mr Zarif, was seeking a political solution in Iraq – which doesn’t explain why a close ally of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, was killed west of Mosul. Does Sheikh Tamim believe this version of history?

Yesterday, this newspaper posed a question to Sheikh Tamim. Today, we have a second one. Consider Iran’s role in destabilising Bahrain. Consider Iran’s objectives in seeking to dominate the Gulf. And then ask yourself: do you believe Iran’s expansion will stop at Qatar’s borders? Do you think that Qatar, alone among Gulf countries, can appease Iran’s thirst for power? Or is it not more likely that, if Iran got the chance to keep destabilising Arab countries, that it would seek to bring chaos even to the presidential palace in Doha?