Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has had a phone conversation with Qatari leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, during which the Iranian President expressed his support for Qatar against the Saudi led boycott of the small but wealthy Gulf state.
This is the most prominent Iranian demonstration of support of Qatar that has been made public since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt spearheaded a total diplomatic and economic cutting off of Qatar.
The call came at a symbolic period as Muslims of all sects celebrated Eid, the fest at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
According to Mehr,Rouhani said that his country is committed to pursuing “a common goal for both sides can be to help Qatar’s economy and expand special relations between private sectors of the two countries”.
Notice that Rouhani talked about a special relation not between the governments in Tehran and Doha but rather between private companies in each country. This makes it clear that Iran while sympathetic to Qatar’s plight at the hands of a common antagonist in Riyadh, the bilateral relationship between Iran and Qatar does not yet rise to a fully fraternal relationship between two countries, but rather one motivated by the fact that both Iran and Qatar sit atop the same natural gas field and furthermore by the fact that both countries now have a common geo-political foe.
It is indeed the possibility of cooperation in energy cultivation between Iran and Qatar that has recession stricken Saudi Arabia fearful. The ideological ‘betrayal’ of a Salafist Sunni monarchy in the Gulf developing closer ties to Iran is merely what Saudi sees as an ‘insult to economic injury’ so to speak.
“Pressure, intimidation and sanction cannot be suitable solutions to possible disagreements among regional countries”.
While these remarks are not worded as strongly as those of Turkey President Erdogan who called the ultimatum an attack on Qatari sovereignty, the conclusion drawn by Rouhani is not entirely different than that of Erdogan.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to cooperate and take any necessary measures for peace settling in the region.
…Iran’s air, ground and sea will be always open to the brother and neighbour country of Qatar.
…Tehran and Doha have always enjoyed strong and developing relations.
We are fully ready to strengthen bilateral ties as well as to join hands for resolving complicated issues faced by the Islamic world”.
The Iranian President also affirmed that Iran’s sea and land will always be open to Qatar which Rouhani called a brotherly nation.
The conversation between President Rouhani and Qatar’s Emir demonstrates another own goal from the Saudi perspective. In trying to bully Qatar into becoming something of a puppet state vis-a-vis Saudi, Riyadh has actually pushed Qatar far closer into the embrace of Iran than it ever was or possibly could have been, prior to the Saudi led boycott.
Far from capitulating to ridiculous Saudi demands which are more reminiscent of the kind of threats against small entities which occurred during the Peloponnesian War than anything worthy of the 21st century, Qatar shall pursue its sovereign rights as a nation to develop bilateral relations with countries which haven’t decided to isolate Qatar. Qatar’s renewed relationship with Sunni Turkey and its expanding political and economic relations with Shi’a Iran mean that Qatar now has a more diverse portfolio of large regional non-Arab allies than Saudi does. While Turkey is not anti-Saudi, Turkey’s rebukes of Saudi in recent days and weeks demonstrate Ankara’s clear revulsion at the Saudi attitude to a neighbouring state.
All of this being said, Iran must be careful to remember that in until recently Qatar was fighting pro-Iranian Houthis in Yemen and has been instrumental in funding Salafist terrorist groups in Syria which opposed the Damascus led anti-terrorist coalition of which Iran is a member along with Russia and Hezbollah.
Rouhani’s remarks indicate that Iran is still publicly aware of this and privately Iran is almost certainly considering future prospects with Qatar far more cautiously than public statements would imply.
That being said, the idea that the Russian-Iranian-Turkish Astana Group for Syrian peace is little more than an element of a pro-Shi’a alliance with Turkey fuming from the sidelines, is looking increasingly like a simplistic analysis.
Turkey has distanced itself from US policy in Syria over America’s strong backing of Kurds and likewise Turkey has openly rejected the Greater Albania project which is strongly favoured by Washington and London. At the same time, Erdogan is increasingly moving closer to Iran and in a broader sense Russia on several key issues. Saudi has managed not only to bring Qatar closer to Iran but oddly has created the knock on effect of giving Turkey one more reason to distrust Washington.
The fact that Russia remains neutral over the Qatar crisis but has done so without shooting its own foot as America did after Donald Trump Tweeted that Qatar is guilty of sponsoring terrorism as Saudi accused it of being, all means that Russia’s level of respect in Doha has gone up while its position in Riyadh has still not necessarily gone down in any way.
In this sense, it is not Russia and Iran that are forming a Shi’a crescent but it is Saudi that is attempting to form a Sunni crescent leading from the Gulf across the Red Sea to Egypt with only besieged civil war torn Yemen in the way.
But Qatar’s relationship with Iran has shown a fatal flaw in the Shi’a versus Sunni propaganda that has come out of Saudi for years. The reality is that economics and issues of security will generally trump ideological concerns, especially in an era of falling energy prices.
At the end of the day, with the exception of an increasingly close relationship with Egypt, albeit one that won’t fundamentally change Egypt’s character as a secular multi-faith state, it is Saudi which may become increasingly isolated. While America and Israel doubtlessly lean closer to Saudi, America will always tend to maintain public neutrality and Israel at the end of the day is a disloyal ally to all but itself as President Nixon and Obama’s difficult relationships with Israel leaders attests to.
Saudi’s impetuous style of ‘diplomacy’ in what can be called the era of Mohamamd bin Salman is already starting to backfire substantially and this is merely the beginning.