Two years ago, US President Donald Trump called on tiny, oil-rich Qatar to “stop funding extremist ideology” and re-join the circle of “responsible nations.”
Trump’s statement came less than three weeks after his speech at the Riyadh summit, which was attended by over 50 Arab and Muslim leaders, and just a few days after the coalition of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE, severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and blocked air, sea and land communication with it.
The cause of the split, as the representatives of Saudi Arabia said at the time, was Qatar’s support for terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida), Hamas and ISIL. Saudi Arabia also stated that the Qatari television channel Al-Jazeera and other media sponsored by the Government of Qatar were involved in fomenting unrest in the region. All these statements sounded against the background of the rapid growth of Qatar’s military spending over the past decade.
A few weeks ago, Qatar demonstrated its two-faced approach to regional affairs by signing for the first time an agreement at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit, which implies uniting the Arab world against Iran’s regional ambitions. The next day, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said that Qatar’s position on Iran is somewhat different from that of other Arab countries since the agreement contains “a number of conditions that are contrary to Doha’s foreign policy.”
Significant fluctuations have previously arisen in the US regarding the need to bring Qatar to justice. This was probably due to the actions of the strong Qatari lobby and resistance from senior members of the US administration, who fear that a tougher stance against Qatar could destabilize the situation. In addition, many in Congress remember the alleged shortcomings of Saudi Arabia — an ally of the United States and the main Arab rival of Qatar.
Qatar is undermining the policies of the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council towards Iran. At the same time, Qatar continues to benefit from the generosity of the United States. It’s time to put an end to this. The Senate resolution may unite Congress, one part of which stands for restricting military supplies in general, while the other intends to isolate Iran and its allies. The Senate resolution pursues both of these goals; it must send a clear signal to Qatar that as long as Doha actively supports regimes opposing Washington and its allies, Qatar should not count on further American support.
Doha believes that Washington has its hands tied because the territory of Qatar is the largest US military facility in the region — El-Udeid airbase. This base is important in the framework of the war in Afghanistan, as well as the fight against jihadists and regional supporters of Iran. However, some analysts believe that there are still a number of countries where the United States could create a similar Air Force base. All of these countries are more reliable allies of Washington than Qatar.
Perhaps the need to relocate the Air Force base will not arise at all if Washington makes it clear that Qatar no longer has a blank check to undermine the interests of the United States and its allies. We should start by canceling the planned modernization of the El-Udeid airbase. However, there is a more effective way to convince Qatar of the need to abandon its destabilizing activities in the Middle East — to stop the supply of high-tech military equipment.