By Mike Mizzi
An old Arab motto goes something like this: “The young son against the elder brother, the elder brother against the father, the daughter against the mother, the family against the clan the clan against the tribe and the tribe against the world”.
In the current escalating wars in the Middle East we could almost trace this idea into every and each nation now embroiled in what is turning out to be a military fiasco brought on by a spark ignited way back after September 11 2001 when the US invaded Iraq.
The complexity of the scenario unfolding there is immense and so are the stakes.
Everyone knows of the major actors such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Iran but little has been said about the tiny and filthy rich oil state of Qatar.
Decreased US interest in the region creates an opportunity for regional actors such as Qatar to take on a greater role in the resolution of conflicts in the region. Dr Kristian Coates Ulrichsen of London School of Economics and Political Science, believes that:
“The country took advantage of the unique niche which it had spent years crafting in order to play an astoundingly high-profile and increasingly controversial role in the uprisings. Initially, it displayed unprecedented regional leadership bordering on outright activism in responding to crises across the Arab world”.
There are also economic reasons that drive its policy.
In 2012 Felix Imonti, an analyst cited by Ansa Mediterranean, posed the article entitled Qatar: Rich and Dangerous, published by specialized website “Oilprice.com”. There he provided the clue to the real motives behind Qatar’s Middle East policy. Imonti suggested that:
“Qatar’s involvement in the Syria civil war was based in part on its desire to build a pipeline to Turkey through Syria. According to him, the discovery in 2009 of a new gas field near Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Syria opened new possibilities to bypass the Saudi Barrier and to secure a new source of income. Pipelines are in place already in Turkey to receive the gas. Only Al-Assad is in the way. Qatar along with the Turks would like to remove Al-Assad and install the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the best organised political movement in the chaotic society and can block Saudi Arabia’s efforts to install a more fanatical Wahhabi based regime. Once the Brotherhood is in power, the Emir’s broad connections with Brotherhood groups throughout the region should make it easy for him to find a friendly ear and an open hand in Damascus”.
That’s the gist of it. First and foremost it is a matter of finances. Transporting gas by pipeline is quicker and far more economical than cooling it down to liquid form to be shipped in specialised tankers. And although Saudi Arabia and Qatar may be working hand in hand to remove Bashar Assad from power, this is where their cooperation stops. Both the Saudis and the Qataris want to control the outcome of the Syrian conflict.
Enter Vladimir Putin.
At the Valdai discussion forum on October 22, Russian President Vladimir Putin said some countries are playing a double game, adding that while they fight against terrorism they also “place figures on the board” in their own interests. “Success in fighting terrorists cannot be reached if using some of them as a battering ram to overthrow disliked regimes” Putin told the forum, saying that this way the terrorists would not go anywhere. “It’s just an illusion that they can be dealt with [later], removed from power and somehow negotiated with” he added.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already embroiled in an expensive and bloody war in Yemen that may limit both their military and financial resources. An overt intervention in Syria would be a gross violation of international law if it is not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council or conducted upon an invitation of Syria’s government. The notion that Qatar would even consider going into Syria against Russian forces is too bizarre to be considered let alone acted on. But there may be bigger cats in the bushes waiting to pounce once given the raison d’etre to act namely the USA and allies. America may just be biding her time to see how successful Putin is in pushing back ISIS and the other forces arrayed against Assad.
After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre the US moved its Middle East base from Saudi Arabia into Qatar, effectively giving Qatar client state bases and a launch pad into the Syrian theatre of war. The US has been in Qatar since the 1970s and has two bases there; the Al Udeid Air base which also services Australian and British air force squadrons.
So the idea that Qatar would be engaging in Syria alone would be facile. In fact current US operations in Syria would most likely be implemented from Qatar.
There is an odd prophetic overtone to all these gatherings of armies in the Middle East. It seems that a final battle for control of the lucrative Middle East oil and gas trade are definitely winding out.
As alliances form and the spoils eyed off a conflagration of epic proportions is in the making. The result of which will form the basis for the economic and cultural landscape across the entire region for decades to come.