Abu Dhabi: Iran has jumped at the opportunity to undermine the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and destabilise the region amid the Qatar row, analysts say.
Alex Vatanka, Senior, Fellow of Middle East Institute, Washington DC, observed that there had been a lot heard from Tehran in the last 48 hours about the need to calm tensions in the dispute over Qatar’s regional policies.
“Tehran is no doubt pleased to see this internal GCC split. A divided GCC has always been a strategic goal of Iran as it weakens the alliance’s ability to stand up to Tehran and her regional agenda,” Vatanka warned.
Vatanka added that, while there is no doubt that this is a deep conflict in the GCC about the nature and future direction of the alliance, the Qataris are still confronted with a basic problem: how can they seriously abandon traditional allies such as the fellow GCC states and the US a guarantor of Qatari security for some pipe dream about cooperation and marriages of convenience with the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Republic of Iran that represent versions of political Islam that are essentially antitheses to the Gulf Arab monarchies, including Qatar. That is the question only the political elite in Doha can answer.
Tehran will certainly try to exploit the widening gulf between Qatar and Saudi Arabia for its own geopolitical interests.
“Iranian leaders are pinning their hopes on Qatar forging new alliances to minimise the impact of its isolation,” Ahmad Majidyar, director of the Iran Observed Project at the Middle East Institute, told Gulf News.
It remains unclear whether Qatar will choose this route, because it risks seriously hurting its relationship with the United States.
“Although Pentagon officials have said that the Gulf crisis will not affect US military operations at Al Udeid air base, the crisis, if it is not resolved diplomatically anytime soon, may compel the US military to relocate its air base or use another regional base as its main headquarter for anti-Daesh operations,” he said.
Majidyar added that while US diplomats maintain that Washington-Doha relations are still strong, President Trump’s latest Twitter messages indicate that the administration supports the decision by Saudi Arabia and other regional allies to counter Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism.
It remains to be seen how the Qatari government will respond if Washington dials up pressure on Doha in coordination with its regional allies. Any efforts by Doha to cultivate closer ties with Tehran will also have serious ramnifications for US-Qatar relations.
Tehran has leapt at the opportunity to offer food assistance and airspace to Doha.
Analysts are sceptical about whether the goodwill gesture is really no-strings-attached.
“The Iranian regime has always had the strategic objective of undermining the GCC,” Dr Sultan Al Nuaimi, an expert in Iranian affairs told Gulf News.
“All this is against the backdrop of a striking political contradiction — Qatar, from the Iranian perspective, is on the one hand a rival to Iranian presence in Syria and on the other a friendly country that can be penetrated to achieve the ultimate goal of undermining the GCC,” Dr Al Nuaimi said.