With its feet now firmly planted on Qatari sands, Iran is now brazenly trying to turn into a bigger menace for Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] countries. Not surprising considering it now sits in the middle of the GCC region in plain sight. There is nothing covert or surreptitious about its manoeuvres unlike in the last many decades.
But despite Qatari intransigence beginning in June this year, when it refused to heed GCC calls to stop hobnobbing with Iran, stop funding terrorist and extremist outfits and shut down Al Jazeera TV which is known for its extreme anti-Arab bias [except when it comes to Qatar itself] the GCC countries are firmly in favour of keeping Qatar within their fold and are trying their best to bring it round to their worldview.
The Iranian menace and the Qatari adamance did come up for discussion last week in Bahrain at the 13th International Institute of Strategic Studies Regional Security Summit, also known as Manama Dialogues 2017. Indeed even the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Minister – an outsider to the Iran imbroglio – called for a joint and comprehensive plan of action to contain Iran not only for its nuclear weapons but its regional role as well.
It is common knowledge that after arming and instigating Shia factions in Yemen on the western edge of the Arabian peninsula, Iran has now ensconced itself in Qatar. It is on the eastern edge, and the GCC countries are keen to ensure this pincer-like hold is removed.
As UAE Foreign Minister Dr Anwar Gargash said at the Manama Dialogues: “Qatar is a small wealthy state which is using its immense wealth to support the Jihadist school and has been opportunistic since the beginning of the Arab Spring [of 2011].”
Given its wealth it has also been keen to assert itself on the political stage and knowing that its size and demography would never allow it to realise that ambition it has chosen to ride piggyback on Tehran. Its machinations in that direction go as far back as 2011. Then, its prime minister tried to bring about regime change in Bahrain with the help of Bahrain-based and Iran-backed Shia elements and outfits.
Having said that, the GCC is banking on Kuwait and Oman, especially the former, to convince Qatar. Indeed the Kuwaiti and Qatari Amirs did meet formally at the just-concluded Kuwait Summit of GCC countries which is a sign that all is not lost.
The GCC does realise it is essential for peace and progress in its constituent countries that all six nations remain together. There is everything common between Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar – language, religion, landscape, wealth, demography, history and folklore – whereas they have nothing in common with Iran. So the Qatari calf-love for Iran needs to be handled not so much by arm-twisting as through sincere dialogue.