Qatar is opportunistically exploiting the vacuum created by the Arab revolts,
according to an Israeli-authored report released Tuesday, and trying to
cultivate ties with both the West and Islamists in a bid to punch above its
“Qatar has a very unique foreign policy – it’s friends
with everyone,” Yoel Guzansky, the report’s co-author, told The Jerusalem Post.
“The Qataris see this as giving them immunity. After all, if I’m your friend,
why would you want to hurt me?”
Guzansky’s monograph, “The Rise of Qatar,” was
released by the Institute for National Security Studies, where he and co-author
Oded Eran are researchers.
Qatar’s outsized international clout is based
above all on its natural resources: The tiny Persian Gulf emirate is the
worldwide leading exporter of natural gas. The South Pars gas field – the
world’s largest – stretches between Qatar and Iran, though around three-quarters
of the field’s area lies within Qatari territorial and maritime
This natural wealth has given Qatari citizens the world’s
highest per capita gross income – $170,000 – and last year the country’s economy
grew a staggering 18 percent.
In 1996, a year after taking power, Qatar’s
Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani invested the country’s fuel wealth into Al
Jazeera, now the Arab world’s most-watched satellite channel.
– which launched an English channel a decade later – has given the emirate
extraordinary sway in shaping regional public opinion.
The INSS report
says that since the start of the Arab revolts in late 2010 – uprisings for which
Al Jazeera often served as cheerleader – Qatar has been bolder than ever in
flexing its diplomatic muscles.
Doha has mediated between Yemeni
President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the country’s opposition, ultimately
facilitating Saleh’s resignation in favor of his deputy. In Libya, Qatar was the
Arab state most involved in the military effort to oust Muammar Gaddafi, and in
Syria it has been at the forefront of diplomatic action against the country’s
embattled president Bashar Assad.
On the Palestinian front, the report
says, Qatar has taken the place of Egypt as the key Arab mediator between Fatah
and Hamas, hosting a summit between the rival Palestinian movements last month.
Later it brokered a deal between Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal and Jordan that
allowed the Islamist movement to reestablish a presence in the kingdom after a
more than decade-long ban.
Hamas maintains an office in Doha, and the
city has been named as a potential home base for the Islamist group now that its
erstwhile sponsors in Damascus are threatened by a popular revolt almost a year
Driving much of Qatar’s foreign policy, Guzansky said, is fear of
“Qatar is the Gulf country with perhaps the closest
ties to Iran, and before Saddam Hussein’s fall it was the closest to Iraq,”
Guzansky said. “The rationale is ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies
closer.’” None of this has escaped the attention of Israel, which last year
closed its small diplomatic mission in Doha, forbade Qatari passport bearers
from visiting the West Bank and stopped cooperation with Qatar’s security
Diplomatic cables released in 2010 by Wikileaks revealed the
United States had lodged complaints with Qatar over its support of
“The leaks show the Americans complained many times over the
Qataris’ links with radical actors like Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and al- Qaida,”
said Guzansky, an arms-control and intelligence expert and former member of the
National Security Council. “Al Jazeera was the platform for all these radical
actors, and it isn’t exactly a democratic channel – it does what the emir
Still, since 2003 US Central Command – responsible for the Middle
East and North Africa – has kept its forward-operating headquarters in Qatar.
And though Qatari bases served as primary hubs for US operations in Afghanistan
and Iraq, the country has remained almost entirely immune to retaliatory
Guzansky said the American military presence allows
Qatar to remain in Washington’s good graces, while Doha’s ties to Islamists keep
the region’s radicals at bay.
“In the annals of modern history, it is
hard to find a similar instance of so tiny a nation implementing a foreign
policy of such high profile,” Guzansky wrote in the report. “Spurred primarily
by survival instincts, the emirate can continue to enjoy political and economic
stability and furnish political and economic support for the radical forces in