Saudi foreign policy pushes Iran, Turkey closer

Al Manitor | Ali Hashem: Between Doha and Tehran, there’s always a thin vein that keeps relations alive despite regional tensions, bilateral differences or even bloodshed. The two Persian Gulf states were never allies, even when their ties were better in the first decade of the 21st century. But they never became enemies, even though they have been fighting one another indirectly in Syria since 2012. Even the Tehran office of Al Jazeera, Qatar’s main news network, was never closed despite its rhetoric that was regarded by the Iranian ruling elite as hostile toward the country’s regional agenda during the past six years.

This strange relationship has always intimidated Saudi Arabia — Qatar’s largest Arab neighbor and Iran’s main rival in the region — since it sees in such ties a serious threat to its national security and a vulnerability that Iran could exploit to divide the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council. This was reflected clearly in the list of demands that was sent to Qatar recently by Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries via Kuwait to end the row that started June 5 when these countries decided to sever diplomatic ties and impose a blockade on Qatar. The first demand on the list was “ending diplomatic ties with Iran,” besides requesting that Doha expel members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) allegedly present in Qatar, halt joint military cooperation and limit trade and commerce with Tehran, among other demands.

The Qatari response to the demands came 48 hours after the list was handed to Doha. The country’s young emir told Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in a phone call June 25 that “Qatar has open arms for interaction and cooperation,” adding that “relations between Iran and Qatar have always been developing and powerful.” The Iranian president vowed that “Tehran will stand by Qatar’s government” and that Iran’s airspace, land and sea will always be open to Qatar as a friendly nation, stressing that the cooperation between the two countries will remain “continuous.”

Iran has taken several steps to ensure the blockade has a minimal effect on Qatar. Its airspace has eased access for Qatari flights banned by the neighboring Gulf states, while it is exporting more than 1,000 tons of fruits and vegetables to Doha every day following the closure of the Qatari border with Saudi Arabia, which was the main route for the majority of Qatar’s food needs.

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