Diario Judío México - Mauritania, a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Project (TSCP), is a recipient of US assistance towards counterterrorism and security efforts.
Bangladesh, despite cuts in the financial assistance under the Trump administration, continues receiving millions in aid for humanitarian, educational, military training, and security/counterterrorism assistance.
Both countries have a horrendous human rights record; Mauritania still has slavery and targets abolitionists as a security risk – doubtlessly, not a good use of US taxpayers’ money.
Bangladesh’s PM Sheikha Hasina turns a blind eye to the persecution of Hindus and other minorities, has imprisoned her political opposition, and has allowed radicalization to fester inside mosques.
Iraq, another US ally, has abandoned Yazadis, oppressed its Kurdish population after the referendum, incorporated Iran-backed militias into its military, contributing to Iran’s expansionism throughout the Middle East, and has allowed Iranian assassins to pick off Kurdish opponents.
In the past fiscal year, the trade between the two countries reached $320 million. After a recently signed trade agreement, Iran is looking to increase trade with Qatar to $1 billion. The agreement touched on oil, gas, petrochemicals, IT, agriculture, transportation, and banking investments. This agreement violates recently imposed US sanctions. In other words, Qatari individuals and entities engaged in trade with Iran could and should be subject to secondary sanctions.
Furthermore, after the imposition of sanctions, in a defiant move, not only has Qatar provocatively pledged to invest $15 billion into the economy of another “ally”, Turkey, which is holding hostage a US citizen, but agreed to additional increase in maritime shipping & trade with the Islamic Republic. In the first 2 months of the Iranian year (March-May), Iran has exported nearly $48 million worth of goods to Qatar. What portion of these goods is contraband? No one has checked, but given that the two countries are now intimately connected in defiance of sanctions by other regional powers and by the United States, the use of Qatari ports in furtherance of Iranian political agendas should be at the very least investigated.
Qatar has also boosted its trade with Turkey (independently of the investment commitment) and Pakistan, likewise recently sanctioned with the withholding of military aid by the Trump administration, for its facilitation of terrorism. To fend off Saudi influence, Iran has recently made additional overtures to Pakistan as well. Doubtless, these are unwelcome developments for the United States, nor are they coincidental. How did Qatar manage to get with defying sanctions by many of its government linked representatives and institutions, while growing its alliance with the Trump administrations? Aggressive lobbying strategy, including fancy DC dinners in honor of the visiting foreign minister, might be part of the answer. The lobbying push by now has exceeded $24 million.
Perhaps when the lobbyist pockets are as deep as they are in Doha, normal rules of business do not apply. Normal rules of business, in this instance, would mean pressuring Qatar to choose between doing business with Iran and the United States. Ultimately, moving away from Tehran would benefit Qatar as well, as it would make the removal of the blockaded by its concerned regional rivals – the Anti-Terrorism Quartet (KSA, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain) that much more likely. But perhaps, the blockade was merely an excuse for Qatar to shift its business to Iran.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran may soon become financially dependent on Qatari largess. Growing trade with the country would increase Doha’s influence and could pave way towards its dominance over the ATQ. Close links with the Islamic Republic are not a move of a desperate tiny country seeking new trade partners after an isolation by four big bullies, but rather a shrewd calculated move meant to increase its regional and global influence. Qatar is rich with gas, and would not starve without Iran’s presence. There is no shortage of demand for its supply, especially given the reluctance of many countries to become overly dependent on Russia. In yet another unwelcome move, Tehran and Doha also boosted coastal security ties. What does that mean? In a nutshell, it means that Qatar’s pretense of being threatened by Iran over the proximity to its gas fields has always been a fabrication.
Qatar is hosting both the US and Turkish military bases. Iran, with its sub-par navy, has not been a particular threat. This lie runs deep. A few years ago, under the Obama administration, just when Qatar was supposed to be “threatened” by Iran, Qatar offered Iran its assistance with getting out its gas. Supposedly, Qatar was concerned that Iranian firms would be sloppy and damage its gas fields. However, it is clear overall that the gas-related cooperation all this time has been mutually beneficial and fully cooperative. Rather than being threatened by Iran’s military advances, Doha has viewed cooperation with Iran over the shared gas field as a potential for a more efficient output – and perhaps, ultimately, more control over the gas field itself. Indeed, a Qatari official recently put to rest any rumors that the Qatar base could be used to launch strikes against Iran, signaling that far from being pressured by Iran or scared of it, Qatar is looking for a deepening engagement. Furthermore, Iran’s expansionism in the Middle East does not seem to trouble Doha. Perhaps, in the future, if US-led sanctions continue their toll on Iranian economy, Doha may even finance these further expansionist moves by Tehran.
Of further concern is the land route between Turkey, Qatar, and Iran, which has been operational since last year. Supposedly, its purpose was to help transport food between the countries after the imposition of the blockade. However, Qatar, the richest country in the world per capita, likewise had its views on other ways of making profit. As for Iran and Turkey, in the past, the two countries had benefited from illicit gold trade in contravention of sanctions. Having announced its plans to rely on gold to support its economy after US withdrawal from the JCPOA and reimposition of sanctions, Iran, doubtlessly will use this route to continue in its smuggling ways. In essence, under the guise of providing an alternate humanitarian route, Qatar has linked two of the highly problematic regimes and provided an easy opportunity to go around US sanctions and engage in arms smuggling, drug trafficking, and even passageway for terrorists, spies, and other subversive elements. A truck with Turkish goods can now reach Doha in less than 2 days. And Iran’s network of rail lines and roads could also facilitate passageways for Russia and Pakistan. In other words, the hub of rogue regimes now can now proceed with meetings and smuggling, undeterred.
The same Qatari technology used in the build up of these passageways has in the past assisted Hamas with the building of tunnels and rockets to facilitate terrorist attacks in Israel. Qatar is playing intermediary in the White House=-led pursuit of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but given the role of Qatar’s in providing for the tunnels and weapons, it may entirely too naive to believe that Qatar’s role in political laundering of its image is limited to the power brokerage. Likely, if the ceasefire is successful, there is nothing to stop Doha from continuing to provide the same services in the years to come until Hamas accumulates enough power and builds up enough tunnels to violate the ceasefire and start attacking Israel once again. Meanwhile, Qatar continues to win. Iran has offered Doha the use of its ports.
What supplies will Doha import via the Iranian ports? More interestingly, what will it export? Iranian ports are home to the vessels which threatened the Arab Coalition in Yemen, and are now also threatening the Strait of Hormuz. Perhaps Iran’s seemingly altruistic gesture was nothing more than a part of a well-rehearsed charade meant to provide an explanation for the growing Tehran-Doha military ties, which may threaten the entire region. Iran-Qatar normalization extends even so far as the controversial and corrupt 2022 World Cup which Qatar is supposed to host. That Iran is willing to publicly move to profit from his relationship in such a brazen way leaves one to wonder how much underhanded influence and subterfuge the Islamic Republic’s ties with Qatar will hold while the world’s attention is elsewhere. Iran may help with the construction of the stadium – while Doha is looking to increase cooperation with Tehran “in all possible fields“.
This cooperation includes political meddling in Iraq, where the two countries reportedly pressured Kurds and Sunni Arabs from attending a meeting that would cement the possibility of a Sunni political bloc to counter the influence by the Iran-backed Shia’s in most of the major parties. Despite the tensions between the Iraqi government and Tehran, and the dissatisfaction with Shi’a citizens with power shortages and Iran’s cynical diversion of Iraqi rivers, which heightens the drought related crisis inside the country, this level of meddling remains difficult to counter. It also means strengthening ties in the context of international organizations. Qatar’s role is to give Iran international legitimacy. By the same token, Doha gains legitimacy by taking part the Gaza ceasefire negotiations, where it is inviting itself to assert long term influence in the Gaza strip. Israel may feel pressured by the lack of trust Hamas has in other regional actors, but the costs of this decision in the long term may outweigh any short term benefit of having one less problem on its borders to worry about. Qatar, however, continues to play a double game as it met with the GCC chiefs of staff to discuss possible integration of GCC military forces in an effort to create what the Trump administration envisions as the “Arab NATO”. Due to its close and growing military ties to Iran, however, Doha is more likely to be a spoiler than an a uniter in this move.
Then, there is the ideological element. Qatar continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood, including, at the head of state level, the hate preacher Youssef Qaradawi. There is a long historical and ideological affinity between the Iranian Khomeinists and the Muslim Brotherhood, both radical revolutionary movements. Qatar’s game here is fairly transparent – it hopes by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood to direct it away from attempting any potential coups inside the country, rather, directing the energy of the organization and its proxies against its rivals and messy conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. To that effect, by lending hand to Iran’s conniving proxies in Iraq, SYria, Lebanon, and elsewhere, Qatar hopes to divert the fate of Mubarak in Egypt, and to weaken and destabilize its enemies.
Despite theological and political differences, the revolutionary zeal of the two organizations increasingly is finding common cause in opposing the United States, Israel, and stable Muslim majority monarchies and republics. Morsi’s brief chaotic reign in Egypt, Hamas corruption, Erdogan’s destruction of Turkish economy, and Hezbullah tyranny in Lebanon do not speak highly of Islamist ability to govern even when elected by populist majorities; however Iran and Qatar may be less interested in governance than in weakening their regional rivals while reaping the boons of the increased influence in Europe, Africa, Latin America, and with the Asian counterparts, such as Qatar’s recent groundbreaking LNG deal with China..
These developments stand to involve thousands of companies and individuals, all looking to make a fast profit out of Iran’s desperate situation. While Qatar is a potential piggy bank for Iran, Turkey, and other rogue regimes, Qatar likewise stands to benefit financially, but more importantly, strategically. Thanks to the greed and corruption of Washington officials, Qatar now has leverage in both camps, and while the administration is stalwartly looking for ways to curb Iran’s aggression, Qatar is doing everything possible to facilitate it. So long as the United States keeps giving passes to its supposed allies who throw the White House a bone, while continuing business as usual on the side, all our actions to counter terrorism, extremist ideologies, or state-backed aggression will remain fruitless. The US should hold Qatari companies and individuals doing business in Iran to the same standard it holds European businesses, and make a sanctionable list that will give the US leverage over Doha, not the other way around. Similarly, the US government should review the way it engages corrupt governments in pursuit of countering terrorism, and ensure that we get what we are looking for when we expend our capital abroad.