JEDDAH: A senior US scholar has urged Washington to ensure that Qatar ends its support “once and for all” for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and other jihadists.
The US “must work to resolve the current crisis to ensure that outside actors such as Iran and Russia are not able to exploit disunity among America’s allies in this crucial region,” David Andrew Weinberg, who previously served as a Democratic professional staff member at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, wrote in The National Interest magazine.
He said Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood has long been an underlying concern for the Saudis, but “it was the Iranian dimension that appears to have moved them in favor of confronting Qatar.”
Recalling the tense Saudi-Qatari relationship, Weinberg said in 2002 Al-Jazeera broadcast spurious stuff that led Saudi Arabia to withdraw its ambassador from Doha for the next five years.
“During that period, Qatar doubled down on its maverick foreign policy, lending a degree of political and even economic support to Iran and several of its proxies, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime in Syria,” he wrote.
“Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy became somewhat more conventional as a result of facing down an internal Al-Qaeda insurgency from 2003 to 2006.”
According to Weinberg, Qatar jumped at the chance to profit from Saudi Arabia’s loss when Washington looked for an alternate location for its Combined Air and Space Operations Center, moving this crucial air base in 2003 from Saudi territory to Qatar’s Al-Udeid.
“Since then, the base has provided Doha with a measure of impunity from US pressure and considerably reduced Qatar’s reliance on any of its Gulf neighbors for defense,” he said.
By 2007 and 2008, however, the possibility of an American strike against Iran’s nuclear program — and the specter of Iranian retaliation against US forces in Qatar — reportedly helped persuade Doha to mend fences with Riyadh. Al-Jazeera toned down its criticism of Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi ambassador returned.
According to Weinberg, the story of the current tension dates back to 1990 and can be traced to the contrasting Saudi and Qatari views on two dangerous forces: Iran and the Brotherhood.
When Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces conquered Kuwait in 1990, the move set some of Gulf states on divergent paths.
“Riyadh came under pressure from local Brotherhood-influenced preachers who demanded political concessions, including the end of the Kingdom’s arrangement with the US military. The Saudis terminated their cozy relationship with the Brotherhood,” he wrote.
Qatar, on the other hand, took a separate path. According to Weinberg, the ferocity of Saddam’s attack on Kuwait was a lesson to Qatari leaders that their nation’s survival required building influence with great powers, and perhaps even non-state actors, beyond the Arabian Peninsula. “In time, Qatar emerged as the strongest backer of the Brotherhood in the region,” he pointed out.
After the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, Qatar threw its full weight behind various Muslim Brotherhood movements in a bid to challenge the existing order. “This pulled Riyadh and Doha apart yet again,” wrote Weinberg.
Qatar’s support of Brotherhood militias or political parties across the region deeply alarmed Arab states.
These tensions were most visible over Egypt, where Qatar bankrolled Muhammad Mursi’s Brotherhood government only to see it toppled.
Doha, meanwhile, upped its support for the Brotherhood’s most violent regional branch, taking in senior Hamas leaders such as Khaled Meshaal when the group’s leaders fled the growing turmoil in Damascus.
Over time, Hamas military and political operatives made their way to a comfortable safe haven in Doha.
Eventually, the late King Abdullah threw his lot with the Emiratis on a plan to bring Qatar to heel, withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha in March 2014 and persuading tiny Bahrain to do the same.
That Gulf crisis dragged on for most of the year, until Qatar caved when faced with the threat of a potential Saudi land and air blockade.
Qatar shuttered a branch of Al-Jazeera focused exclusively on critical coverage of Egypt, and expelled seven Brotherhood figures.
But Doha’s broader pledges, such as stopping incitement and its support for radical Islamists, have largely come to naught.
“Saudi press reports that Qatar’s foreign minister met with Iranian terror master Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in mid-May provide an added explanation for Riyadh’s anger at Doha,” Weinberg added.