Will Trump Warning to Qatar Do the Trick?

US President Donald Trump has fixed and nixed North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s machinations. He has sprung a surprise on Iran [as well as his European allies] on the score of the nuclear deal. It is not surprising therefore that after dumping the deal despite the protestations of France and the UK, Trump has turned his attention to Qatar. Qatar has been known to fund, harbour and promote known terrorist outfits, some of them closely aligned to Iran.

In fact that was the main reason apart from numerous others which prompted Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to break diplomatic ties with Qatar 11 months ago and isolate it, even barring it from their air space. Feeling the heat and isolated by three major constituents of the Gulf Cooperation Council of which Qatar itself is a part, it had then decided to embrace Iran to remain relevant in the region to the extent that it even played the role of its intelligence gatherer in Yemen while ostensibly remaining on the side of the GCC and fighting against Iran as part of GCC military operations there.

And while for reasons of diplomatic expediency and so as not to appear hawkish in the first months of his presidency, Trump had initially soft-pedalled the issue and had tried to play the mediator, with the dumping of Iran deal, the gloves are off. Not surprising therefore that he has told Qatar in no uncertain terms to stop funding pro-Iranian militias in the Middle East.

According to one report in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, the US is worried about Qatar’s links to “a number of Iranian-sponsored militias” which are in reality terrorist organizations operating overtly or covertly. The concerns were raised by the intercepted emails from senior Qatari officials to terrorist and extremist outfits such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

These also show Qatari links with the head of the Iranian Quds Force who goes by the name of Qasem Soleimani and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. It is known that some years ago Doha had paid hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom to the heads of terrorist organizations linked to Iran to secure the release of its hostages held by militias in Iraq.

Subsequently Doha may have decided to use the same outfits to settle scores with GCC neighbours and create chaos in Bahrain at Iran’s behest, a process which seemed to have gathered momentum – rather than halted, as demanded by the boycotting countries – following the jettisoning of Qatar by the Arab Quartet. As of now the relations seem to be quite cordial, what with the Iranian Foreign Minister having made a high-profile visit to Doha some months ago.

This close and flagrant bond between Qatar and the Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups is what seems to have got Trump’s goat. Knowing Trump’s dealings with North Korea where his tough stand succeeded in bringing Kim to the negotiating table, the Arab Quartet, which has genuinely tried to wean Qatar away from Iran, can only hope Trump’s thunder pays off.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.