Qatar’s Increasingly Tenuous Alliance with Iran

Home to the largest U.S. air base in the region, Qatar now finds itself in conflict with its Gulf neighbors over its refusal to support their efforts to contain Iran—with which it shares the world’s largest natural-gas field—and its continued backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which these countries have turned against. Jonathan Spyer examines the contradictory position in which Doha finds itself:

Qatar’s support for the Sunni political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood does not make it an automatic fit for Iran, whose main support is among Shiite and minority communities and which promotes its own brand of Shiite political and revolutionary Islam. Common enmity toward Israel formed the basis of the strong relations, built up since the early 1990s, between Tehran and Hamas, which emerged from the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood. But during the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood and Iran found themselves on separate sides, as the former, with Qatari financial aid and media support, sought to establish a rival, Sunni Islamist regional power bloc. This [tension] led, for example, to Iran and Qatar backing different sides in the Syrian civil war.

But now, with the Muslim Brotherhood significantly weakened on the regional level, the Syrian rebellion close to defeat, and Doha facing repercussions from its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council countries for its support of radicalism, Qatar has been moving over the last eighteen months sharply in the direction of closer relations with Teheran. . . .

Qatar’s regional strategy is based on precarious and contradictory foundations. The emirate suppresses Islamist activity within its own territory, while partnering with Islamist forces elsewhere—not because of a deep or genuine affiliation, but in order to inflate Qatari regional influence.

This approach is now creating major contradictions and problems for Qatar: specifically, as the U.S. seeks to build a regional response to Iranian aggression and hegemonic ambitions, Qatar finds itself in the untenable position of wishing neither to cooperate with the U.S., nor to ally with anti-U.S. regional forces. The contradictions and implausibility of this stance are currently manifesting themselves.

Read more at Middle East Forum

More about: Arab Spring, Hamas, Iran, Middle East, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics & Current Affairs, Qatar, U.S. Foreign policy

Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy