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Iran enters the Qatar-Saudi conflict as war draws near

DOHA, QATAR - OCTOBER 24: Men and women wearing traditional Qatari clothing visit the waterfront along the Persian Gulf across from new, budding financial district skyscrapers on October 24, 2011 in Doha, Qatar. Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup football competition and is slated to tackle a variety of infrastructure projects, including the construction of new stadiums. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Turkish troops and aid have arrived in Qatar, something that is not entirely surprising given Turkish President Erdogan being on a similar ideological page to radical groups directly funded and supported by Qatar. This includes the Libyan radical Islamist factions in Misrata and also the Muslim Brotherhood which is outlawed in Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia among others. Even Hamas has recently decided to distance itself from the Brotherhood in recent months.

Turkey also has a degree of economic ties to Qatar.

However, Iran’s announcement that it is ready to send food and other aid items to Qatar is more surprising in some ways.

Iranian forces have for years been forces Qatari funded jihadists on the battle field in Syria. Traditionally Qatar has been a regional opponent of Iran and its Salafist state ideology is anathema to that of Iran’s Islamic Republic.

However, there are two main reasons which at this time serve as the motivating factors for Iran offering assistance to Qatar.

Most immediately is Iran’s total opposition to Saudi Arabia which it blames (almost certainly correctly) for having a hand in this week’s ISIS attacks on Tehran. By siding with Qatar in this respect, Iran has taken the view that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, even though in this case Qatar has been an enemy of Iran and its proxies continue to be in Syria.

However, the second reason for Iran’s decision shows more long term thinking, although there are still inherent dangers.

Qatar and Iran geographically sit on the same natural gas field. With the Syrian anti-terrorist coalition winning the war against Qatari proxies, many have suggested that Qatar is seeking to pivot its ambitions from building a gas pipeline to Turkey which would run through Syria, to instead attempting to work with Iran on a joint gas venture.

The possibility of Iranian-Qatari cooperation is something that Iran’s sworn enemy Saudi Arabia takes very serious and indeed Riyadh readily admits that Qatar’s warming relations with Iran are a proximate cause for the Saudi led isolation of Qatar.

Crucially, with Turkey and Iran both seemingly siding with Qatar, Qatar’s isolation from the wider world is incomplete.

In spite of Saudi threats against Qatar, the Qatari Foreign Minister issued a defiant statement aimed at Saudi saying,

“We will not permit any outside interference in our foreign policy”.

This comes as the Qatari Foreign Minister prepares for an emergency meeting in Moscow.

Moscow is clearly upset with the Saudi-Qatari spat, but will almost certainly remain fully neutral throughout the conflict. Moscow continues to retain normal relations with both Doha and Riyadh in spite of major policy differences as well as differences in over-all geo-political alignments.

Any idea that Russia is somehow ‘taking sides’ with Qatar should be seen as grossly exaggerated. That being said with Moscow open to hearing the Qatari perspective and with both NATO member Turkey and American adversary Iran clearly taking the Qatari position, it looks increasingly as though Saudi is becoming more backed against the wall than it had previously seemed.

Egypt’s spat with Qatar is grown out of direct animosity over the latter’s funding of the brief Muslim Brotherhood, not any grander ideological alliance with Saudi. Egypt remains distant from Turkey for the same reason.

The elephant in the room and it is a big elephant indeed is the United States which retains its largest Middle East base in Qatar.

We are now witnessing the odd spectre of Turkey breaking rank with the US over Qatar and also Iran defying the US presence in the Gulf in order to offer assistance to a wayward US ally.

The US could either shrug its shoulders and realise it lost this particular chess match or more worryingly, the US has allowed Iran to be drawn into the Gulf were realistically a war of some kind or another could realistically break out.

US proxies are fighting Iran in Syria and to some degree are fighting over influence in Iraq with Iran, Could the Gulf be the next hot spot for a US-Iran proxy war or worse?

Such a scenario looks more likely today than at any time in the recent or even distant past.

What do you think?

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