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Small and cunning Qatar, but with great military ambitions

This post was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The new alliance, formed from Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia and Qatar, demonstrates a departure from the traditional model, when the spiritual and religious center of Islam was located in the Arab world. This alliance is both strategic and ideological.

New turn

Ankara and Doha have been acting as a united front against Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for a number of years. Therefore, it is not surprising that Deputy Prime Minister of the East Libyan government Abdul Salam al-Badri, fulfilling the instructions of the Supreme Commander of the Libyan National Army, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, called on Israel to help Eastern Libya overcome the crisis situation in confronting the government in Tripoli.

In fact, Israelis are being invited to join an alliance opposing a coalition in which such a hater of the Jewish state as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plays the main violin. Given the fact that anti-Palestinian (read pro-Israel statements) have recently been voiced in Saudi Arabia (SA), which is on the side of Haftar, such a step by the government of the Jewish state would at first glance be fully justified.

Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toame writes in an article with the noteworthy title “Palestine Is Not My Business,” published in the Jerusalem Post: “The Palestinians accuse the SA and Israel of allegedly being behind the abuse of the Palestinians, and claim that the Saudi royal the family sold Palestine to the Jews.” Moreover, some Palestinian politicians accuse Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of “Zionism” on the grounds that he supports “normalizing” relations with Israel.

However, everyone understands that addictions in the political game in the East are very unreliable. After all, until recently, Turkey was not just Israel’s most friendly Muslim state, but its real military partner. But she quickly turned into an implacable enemy. So the Israelis should not refuse contacts with Qataris if they insist on them.

Following secret talks in Doha between MOSSAD (Israel Political Intelligence) and IDF Southern District (Israel Defense Forces) leaders in Doha with senior Qatar officials, both sides declared “excellent relations” between them.

Michael Yaari, a very knowledgeable expert on the Gulf countries, writes in his article “Qatar – Israel: An Unexpected Turnaround” published in the Jerusalem Post: “An influential Qatari official close to the government of the emirate, whom I first met, told me about the secret negotiations. in 2018. In Qatar, they say that “a complete understanding has developed between the high-ranking officials of the two countries and both states are fruitfully cooperating.”

Not quite a complete understanding

And yet, the “degree of cooperation” remained limited, because Doha, by and large, staying in the wake of all-Arab politics, did not recognize Israel – the exchange of embassies did not take place. Back in 1996, Qatar established trade relations with the Jewish state, and in the same year, four months after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the acting head of the Israeli government, Shimon Peres, visited Qatar and Oman. He personally opened trade missions for the Jewish state in both countries.

In a sense, thanks to Qatar, the Israelis have made a dent in their uncompromising Arab boycott of their state. Although Doha believed that the Saudis were the first to step towards the Jews. Indeed, at the end of July 2016, a delegation from the SA, led by retired General Anwar Eshki, visited Israel.

The delegation also included Saudi businessmen, academics and policymakers. The delegation met with Dori Gold, then Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and now President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Relations. Note that Dory, a native of the United States and a graduate of Columbia University, holds a PhD in Islamic Studies.

Next March, 2017, Jordan hosted a meeting between the new Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ibn Salman (the same one whom Palestinian leaders accuse of “Zionism”) with Israeli officials mediated by the American and Jordanian sides. It is important to note that military and intelligence issues were discussed at this meeting.

In addition, SA has opened an air corridor for an Indian airline that operates flights from Mumbai (Bombay) to Tel Aviv. By the way, the same corridor last month opened Sudan for one of the Chilean airlines operating flights to Israel. This reduced the travel time from Santiago de Chile and São Paulo to the Jewish state by two hours, thus lifting the air blockade of Israel imposed by the Arab countries back in 1949.

Who first started making eyes?

Nevertheless, the discontent of the majority of Arab countries, as they said in their capitals, was the first to express the discontent of Qatar with Israel in Riyadh. Doha hastened to “return the pass,” reminding the SA which country was actually the first to “make eyes” at the Israelis. The titled Saudi “adviser to the throne” Masood al-Kahtani on Twitter addressed the then Prime Minister of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jasem in a far from respectful tone: flowers to Shimon Peres during his visit, and now you are gathering the nerve to accuse us of normalizing relations?”

The question, of course, was asked “to fill in”, but it was important for Riyadh to put Qatar on the world stage – I emphasize: not only in the Muslim world! – as an “enfant terrible” (translated from French: “terrible child”), who uses his wealth not for good purposes.

In June 2017, several Arab countries, including the CA, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, severed diplomatic relations with the Emirate of Qatar, accusing it of supporting such terrorist groups as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (both banned in Russia and a number of other countries). Later, a number of other Muslim countries announced the severance of diplomatic relations. Jordan and Djibouti have lowered the level of their diplomatic missions.

The Saudis accused Qatar and forging relations with Shiite Iran, despite the fact that Doha broke off relations with Tehran in January 2016 in solidarity with Riyadh’s policies. The Qataris’ relations with the Egyptians deteriorated completely when, in June 2014, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, in support of the “Muslim brothers” (banned in Russia and in a number of other countries) condemned the winner of the presidential election, Abdul-Fattah Khalil al-Sisi and called the incident a military coup.

As for Qatar and the Kingdom of Bahrain (the smallest Arab state, the territory is 13 times smaller than Qatar), their relations have been complicated for several decades by a territorial dispute over the Huvar archipelago (about 30 islands and rocks with a total area of ​​52 sq. Km, the nearest of which located less than two kilometers from the west coast of Qatar) and the underwater ridge Fisht ad-Dibl. Border conflicts took place between Doha and Manama in 1978, 1982 and 1986, which were resolved with the mediation of other states of the Arabian Peninsula.

“Rigid” Qatar?

The fabulously rich Qatar, small in terms of territory and population, of course, cannot but irritate the SA, Iran, Turkey and Egypt, who see themselves at the head of the Muslim world. Doha’s ambition was also expressed in the creation in the emirate in 1996 of the most popular television channel in the Middle East, Al-Jazeera, in whose programs the regimes of neighboring states are often criticized. Qatar has spent a lot of money on financing critical articles about the UAE in various media.

Leonid Markovich Isaev is right, who in his dissertation “Political Crisis in Arab Countries: Experience of Assessment and Typologization” submitted for the degree of candidate of political sciences and defended at the Institute for African Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 2014, writes: “Among the most significant factors that led to regional the political crisis in the Arab countries, are the following: the factor of internal conflicts, the factor of instability of the political regime, as well as the factor of Islamists participating in the political process … “

Also interesting is the typology of the stability of political regimes given by Leonid Markovich according to the “level of accumulation of destabilization” and “potential instability”. Thus, Isaev lists Libya, Egypt and Tunisia as a “vulnerable” type, which is characterized by “a quick change of power under the onslaught of anti-government protests and the subsequent complete reconfiguration of the political regime”.

The “stalemate type”, according to the candidate, distinguishes Arab states with “a powerful consolidation of the political elite and an emerging stalemate: the opposition cannot overthrow the ruling regime, and the regime is unable to suppress the opposition.” This type, according to Isaev, is typical for Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

If the political power is capable of “quickly resolving conflicts by peaceful means,” then the military-political state of the state Isaev refers to the type of “religious conformism.” In his opinion, such countries are Morocco and Jordan.

Somewhat unexpectedly characterizes the candidate for a degree, the type he called “protectionist”, which, in his view, “is distinguished by the” immunity of the current political regime (despite its heterogeneous and contradictory structure) to anti-regime speeches.” Isaev recorded the largest number of Arab countries in this type – Algeria, Kuwait, Oman, Mauritania, SA, Sudan, Iraq, as well as the Palestinian National Autonomy.

And finally, the last type of regime in Arab countries is defined as “rigid”. And although this term (from the Latin rigidus – hard, numb) is more often used in physiology, in this case it can be considered appropriate, because it refers to Qatar and the UAE, states that are often in opposition to the opinion of most Arab states.

A candidate for a dissertation cannot be denied courage when he uses the quite physical term “resistance”, that is, “resistance”, “immunity”, to characterize anti-regime, protest actions in these countries. This term also emphasizes the “low rate of social instability.”

Indeed, Doha does not want to fully accept the rules of the game of neighboring Arab countries, which rely on Riyadh in their policies. The emirate of Qatar has a fully combat-ready army consisting of ground, naval, air forces and anti-aircraft missile units. In service there are tanks, various combat vehicles, artillery.

The ruling dynasty has never spared money for special services. They consist of the Investigation Police, which is part of the Ministry of the Interior, the State Security Investigation Department, which aims to counter espionage, and the Military Intelligence Service, which is responsible for fighting terrorism and political dissidents.

Eldar Osmanovich Kasaev in his dissertation “Actual problems of the socio-economic development of Qatar at the beginning of the XXI century”, submitted for the degree of candidate of economic sciences and defended in 2013 at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, writes: “Over the past 10-15 years, the economy of Qatar has turned into one of the fastest growing in the world. While the economies of many countries were seriously affected by the global financial crisis, Qatar managed to avoid significant losses thanks to the timely response from local authorities and business structures. The backbone of the economy is still the oil and gas sector, and the main income of the state is formed at the expense of funds from the export of liquefied natural gas, the annual supply of which is constantly increasing, and the geography of sales is expanding. “ In addition, the aluminum and steel industries are steadily developing in the emirate. Considerable attention is paid to telecommunications, as well as energy systems and water supply.

Thanks to the money, Doha, having formed political resources, again, not being embarrassed by its smallness in territory and population, resolutely acted on the world stage with claims, at least for the status of a regional power. In a sense, the emirate sees itself as the Middle East Vatican, whose power is determined not only by its enormous financial resources, but to a large extent by the control of the public consciousness of the Catholic world.

“Competition” still needs to be won!

According to a number of media reports (the first appeared in the American online resource Buzzfeed), back in September 2015, Qatar participated in the purchase of weapons in Belarus and Bulgaria, followed by their transit through the same Bulgaria and Romania to Syrian militants opposing the government army of Bashar al-Assad. The American publication claimed that grenades and hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers were purchased from Sofia, and 700 guided missiles of the 9M113 Konkurs anti-tank complex, which the Bulgarians did not have in stock, were purchased from Minsk. This Soviet self-propelled anti-tank missile system was developed in one of the design bureaus in Tula and entered service in 1974.

It is important to bear in mind that the “Competition” was purchased by the armies of such states as Bulgaria, Belarus, Romania, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Retired Colonel of the IDF Yaniv Rokhov, who worked for many years in the analytical department of the Israeli Defense Ministry, believes that the information about the “supplies” of Belarusian weapons to Syrian militants is completely incorrect. “Did Minsk sell weapons to any of the parties to the Syrian conflict?” – Colonel Rokhov asks a rhetorical question and answers it with a resolute “No”.

In terms of the export of weapons (not only of its own production, but also purchased abroad, but recognized as obsolete), Belarus, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, is on the 18th line. The first place in the purchase of weapons from the Republic of Belarus is taken by China, the second and third are Vietnam and Sudan, respectively. But Minsk also sells weapons to Myanmar, Azerbaijan, Russia, other countries of the former USSR and a number of countries in Asia and Africa, whose names are not always disclosed.

Colonel Rokhov believes that Konkurs could have entered Syria from Egypt, to which Russia from 1992 to 1995 supplied 580 9M113 missiles for Fahd armored personnel carriers, designed by the West German firm Thyssen-Herschel by order of the Egyptian Ministry of Defense.

It is quite legal that Belarusians could sell weapons to any country, including Qatar. Well, it is always difficult to follow the further fate of the sold weapons. Thus, Moscow, selling the Kornet anti-tank missile systems manufactured in Tula, specifically stipulated the condition that these systems cannot be transferred to third countries and, therefore, must not fall into the hands of militants of radical and terrorist organizations.

Nevertheless, the “Cornets” ended up in the arsenals of Hamas and Hezbollah, whose militants are actively using them when shelling Israeli territory. It cannot be ruled out that the Bulgarian or Belarusian weapons were not purchased directly. Another thing is that Qatar “has a plug in every barrel.”

Why did Doha decide to participate in the transportation of weapons to the Syrian rebels? According to one version, Qatar simply pleased Ankara, which claims significant territories in Syria. Some experts believe that Doha is taking revenge on Damascus, which refused to allow the Qatar-Turkish gas pipeline to pass through its territory. The project envisioned the start of this gas pipeline in the territorial waters of Qatar and Iran, and then, reaching Turkey, it was supposed to join the Nabucco gas pipeline, which was not implemented.

Friendship after enmity?

Doha is flirting with the Jewish state in the hope that the Israelis will not discourage Qatari investments in the Gaza Strip. It is clear that these investments, firstly, can become an element of strengthening the authority of the emirate in the entire Middle East region. Secondly, this way Qatar gets a real chance to mediate in negotiations between Israel and Hamas in a situation where long-term mediators Egypt and the CA are absorbed in internal problems and cannot effectively influence the situation.

An Arabic proverb says: “What is sweeter than halva? Friendship after enmity. “ Israel turns a blind eye to Doha funding of Gaza with millions of dollars. But nevertheless, no “friendship” between the Jewish state and Qatar is today by and large impossible. Gulf expert Michael Yaari writes in the aforementioned article: “Qatar pursues, without a doubt, an exclusively pro-Palestinian policy, demands the complete withdrawal of Israel from the” occupied “territories” and supports the “inalienable rights of the Palestinian people” to their state.

Israeli politicians and the military are not naive. For the Jewish state, the mediation of the Egyptians and Saudis is preferable, since they have got their hands on “cooling” the hot Hamas heads. Qataris themselves “are concerned about the lack of qualified diplomats and political experts.” The prominent Russian orientalist Elena Surenovna Melkumyan writes about this in the article “Social policy of Qatar in the context of a long-term development strategy”, published in “Proceedings of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences” (Issue 11), published in Moscow in 2018.

The author, in particular, draws attention to the fact that “a branch of the Washington Georgetown University was established in Qatar, which trains politicians and diplomats.” At the same time, the university organized a research center dealing with the problems of international relations, primarily related to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. At the same time, the Rand-Qatar Policy Institute has raised the level of educational and research programs and their technological support.

Of course, the Israelis did not reject Doha’s mediation. Few Arab countries are willing to cooperate with Jews. The Emirate of Qatar, for its part, has got a taste and is trying to offer its “mediation” not only in the Middle East. In the fall of 2018, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamada bin Al Thani, visited Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Argentina.

The visit of the Qatari monarch to the countries of Latin America is primarily due to Doha’s search for new strategic partners in connection with the political and economic boycott of the emirate by a number of Arab countries. Abdullah al-Asba, editor-in-chief of the Qatari newspaper Al-Arab, commented on the pages of his newspaper that the visit to the ruling Qatari monarch of four South American countries “is intended to help create a multi-vector alliance between Doha and Latin America.”

Again, the Qataris lack diplomatic grip. And “trial and error” is not enough. So, in July last, 2019, Doha, yielding to the call of Western European countries to states with a significant proportion of the Muslim population, signed a letter of protest against the Chinese government’s policy towards Muslims in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

But just a month later, Doha informed the chairman of the UN Human Rights Council, Koli Seka, of its decision to withdraw its signature. Qatar’s refusal to at least diplomatically protect its co-religionists and other minorities in faraway China, Permanent Representative of this emirate to the UN, Ali Al-Mansuri, explained in the following words: our key foreign policy priorities. In this regard, we want to maintain a neutral position and offer our mediation role. Doha’s “reverse move” is almost natural, since China remains Qatar’s third largest trading partner.

In principle, nothing will prevent the Qataris at any time from backing up in their now characterized as “excellent” relations with the Jewish state. Unsurprisingly, in Israeli political and military circles, Qatar’s active role in Gaza is viewed with suspicion.

For its part, Doha does not hide that its interest in forging relations with Jews goes far beyond the problems with Gaza. Qatar, like other Muslim countries, is interested in gaining access to Israel’s achievements in various fields of science, and especially in high technologies.

After all, the Israelis also know the Arab proverb: “Haste leads to repentance, and caution leads to prosperity.”

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