Iranian Diplomacy- A clan of Arab states started their workweek by severing ties with a member of their own. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of support for Islamist militants and Iran, Reuters reported. Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives joined later. Transport links shut down, triggering supply shortages in the Qatari peninsula.
In the aftermath of the shock, Iranian media cited reeling oil prices as indicative of the many consequences this new round of rifts could have for the Middle East and the world. Most analysts agree that Iran is, in the words of Reuters, a behind-the-scenes target of the move. However, while a number of media outlets and observers find the episode in the interest of Iran, least of all financially, some veteran diplomats rushed into the debate warning against Iran’s involvement.
Those who argue that Iran could reap the benefits of the fresh rift among Persian Gulf states mainly note Qatar’s imminent need to use Iran as its main route to remain connected to the world. A large portion of all land, sea and air traffic to and from Qatar should also take Iran as their main route, sparking speculations that this could revolutionize Iran’s transit revenues. Pro-reform website Asr Iran has cited the situation as a great opportunity with Iran, adding two historical instances Iran opened its borders to previously hostile countries, once in Iraq’s war against Kuwait, and again in US invasion of Iraq.
The peninsular nation imports 80 percent of its food supplies from its Arab neighbors. Photos of long lines in Qatari shopping centers appeared online, with some industry official in Iran offering to cover up in response.
Familiar with the idiosyncrasies of certain Arab states, at least since they collectively cut or downgraded ties with Iran early in 2016, Tehran has avoided direct involvement, advising both sides to resolve disputes through diplomacy and explicit dialogue. On the surface, such a stance is not very different from those of Moscow and Washington. “The solution to differences among regional countries, including the current dispute between Qatar and its three neighboring states, is possible only through political and peaceful methods as well as transparent and explicit dialogue among the involved parties,” PressTV quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi as saying on Monday. Qassemi added that using sanctions in the current interlinked world was an inefficient and unacceptable move. “Neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed. Coercion is never the solution. Dialog is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a tweet.
The mentality among Iran’s veteran diplomats familiar with the Arab world is more or less the same. Iran’s former ambassador to Jordan, Nosratollah Tajik has told pro-reform website Entekhab that Iran’s involvement could only complicate the situation, and that Tehran should not let the sides use the Iran card in the dispute. Tajik blamed US President Donald Trump’s recent Middle East visit, which concluded a record-breaking arms deal, for disrupting the region’s geopolitical balance. However, he advised Iran not to overlook Qatar’s disproportionate ambitions, as many of its moves are against the interests of Iran, particularly in Syria. “In fact, the country has taken our foreign policy hostage and thus I believe our siding with Qatar will not be appropriate,” Tajik told Entekhab. In response to a question regarding the possibility of a coup d’état or an occupation scenario, he said such reports are publicized by the Qataris to exaggerate the situation, trying to drag countries like Iran into their own side.
A separate interview with Entekhab indicate that former director-general in the Middle East department of Iran’s foreign ministry Ghassem Mohebali is on the same page, saying any intervention by Tehran would only accelerate détente between the sides, while the US would not let Iran expand its influence in Qatar. “During these years, Qatar has been part of a scheme, jeopardizing our security and interests in Syria and Iraq. Doha has not been an innocent state, we could side with it,” he said, in reference to Qatar’s sponsoring of terrorist groups including ISIL and Taliban.
Moderate news agency Khabar Online has consulted Hamireza Assefi, Iran’s former ambassador to the UAE, who believes the crisis is just the beginning of a series of developments and that Iran should act very cautiously. “If tensions turn into conflicts, they would influence the whole region,” he said. Like his colleagues, Assefi believes Iran should not let the sides use the Iran card, as Iran should take into account schemes by the US and Israel to manipulate Middle East tension, politically and financially. He further argued that if powers, mainly the United States, intervene, their influence may resolve the issue, but there is a good likelihood that they see the crisis in their own economic and political interest.