Foreign Policy

Crack down on Qatar’s terror ties now to challenge Iran later


While Americans are well aware of terrorism and its impact on our country, they are less informed about countries that pay for terrorists’ weapons, do public relations for them, and provide sanctuary and diplomatic cover for their terror organizations.

In the Gulf and nearby area of the Middle East, United States allies, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, have cut ties with just such a country — Qatar — sparking a serious diplomatic and military crisis.

{mosads}Since at least 1995, a regime change in Qatar has resulted in that country’s embrace of less than savory regional actors. Of greatest concern have been the Qatar regime’s: (1) covert support for terror groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, (2) pro-jihadi Al Jazeera broadcasts, (3) considerable trade and cozy relations with Iran, (4) tolerance and rhetorical support for Hamas and Hezbollah, (5) allowing growth of terror groups inside Qatar since the Arab Spring, and (6) the financing of Al Qaeda (as was stated by the U.S. Treasury in 2013) by, for example, the head of the Qatar-based Alkarama Foundation.

The rupture of ties to Qatar follows President Trump’s call late this spring for U.S. Arab allies to collectively root out support for terrorism in the region and to unify, led in part by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in a solid diplomatic and military front to challenge Iran while working closely with the United States and Israel.

Years ago, respected scholar Robert Kaplan predicted the requirement for such a Sunni-U.S.-Israel coalition to challenge Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and its associated terror allies. It is now apparent that defeating ISIS, rolling back Iran and bringing some semblance of normality to the Gulf requires just such a strategy.

But as everything seems to be in the Middle East, things are complicated. Qatar, despite its bad behavior, also hosts the United States at one of our most important airbases, not only in the region but anywhere around the globe, forcing the United States into a delicate balancing act. Nonetheless, as even reporting by the Washington Post has acknowledged, “All the players want to stay in America’s good graces, and all see the Trump administration’s focus on the region and willingness to confront shared enemies as an improvement over that they viewed as (the previous administration’s) hesitancy and disengagement.”

The Saudi’s and their allies have put a maritime and air quarantine embargo that makes it very expensive to get goods and materials getting into Qatar, even though NATO member Turkey complicates the situation by supplying Qatar with goods in contravention of the announced embargo. While former NATO commander Admiral James Stavridis says the crisis between our allies is the result of a “long simmering antagonism,” it still needs to be expertly managed by the United States so as not get out of control.

However, even the admiral acknowledges that the United States cannot ignore that Qatari individuals and entities “continue to serve as a source of financial support for terrorist … groups” including the Taliban, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and Al Qaeda. The United States Treasury calls Qatar a “permissive jurisdiction of terrorist financing.”

Added to these concerns are the broadcasts by Al Jazeera that call for the killing of American servicemen as well as “the Jewish Zionists.” Hardly fare designed to attract the support of most Americans.

The demands of America’s allies include Qatar severing ties with terror groups, shuttering Al Jazeera, and trade with Iran confined only to that which is allowed under the international sanctions regime, a condition which might seriously impinge on Qatar’s profits from their joint gas production with Iran.

Nonetheless, the consolidation of power under a reformist Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia, the strategic push by the American administration to defeat Islamic terrorism, and a strategy to stop Iran’s hegemonic ambitions all require a confrontation against policies in the area that foment, support and enable terror groups. And this will require movement by the Qatari government toward demands by our Arab allies in a new condominium to begin implementation of the American government’s new and necessary and workable strategic vision for the region.

Will this require Qatar to be aligned with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, as well as the United States, to the exclusion of enabling Iran?

Yes, it will.  

It is a time for choosing. Though the 13 demands made upon Qatar are onerous, it is time for the richest per capita country in the world to stop supporting the terrorism that kills tens of thousands and breeds instability and oppression.

To date, Qatar has resisted agreeing to the terms and insists it is not guilty of the charge of supporting terrorism as laid out in the demands by the Gulf nations. Nevertheless, the key to the crisis is Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its “affiliates” that seek to overthrow a number of Gulf governments.

Those concerns are not fanciful. The “Arab Spring” led in part to civil wars in Libya and Syria and turmoil in Tunisia, where the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. Then the Muslim Brotherhood with Mohammed Morsi came to power in Egypt, with the support of the American government, resulting in near collapse of that nation as well as spawning other grave threats to the region, including the security of the Suez Canal and that of Israel.

Thus, the push by the new American administration — backed by most of our European allies — for a strategy in the Gulf that rolls back terror groups and their national sponsors — is common sense. It seeks to avoid the turmoil and chaos that engulfed Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, and an end to support and sanctuary for groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and Al Qaeda by any nation in the region.

In a combined and unified front, the United States and our Arab allies can begin to travel the the hard road of bringing down the mullah regime in Iran which is, according to the United States State Department, the world’s biggest supporter and financier of terrorism.

Peter Huessy is the director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies of the Air Force Association. He is also the president of Geostrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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