The Qatari role in the Syrian crisis is one of the most puzzling ones. I understand the profits that countries like Turkey or Russia achieved by intervening in Syria. Other countries like the United States, France or Great Britain have a long history of intelligence work and carry a colonializing mentality. Their intervention could also be understood. The role of Qatar and other Arab Gulf states stays very puzzling and not completely understood.
“Doha’s leaders were particularly emboldened by the revolt in Libya, where Qatar had played the lead Arab role in the Nato-led intervention.”
“Whether in terms of armaments or financial support for dissidents, diplomatic manoeuvring or lobbying, Qatar has been in the lead, readily disgorging its gas-generated wealth in the pursuit of the downfall of the House of Assad.”
“Qatar’s influence over military supplies to the [Syrian] rebellion may be waning, as its role in weapons deliveries takes second place to that of Saudi Arabia. […] Mustafa Sabbagh […] is considered the most powerful man in the political opposition. The owner of a building material and contracting company, the 48-year-old secretary-general of the National Coalition […] he does oversee the coalition’s budget, to which the Qataris are the biggest donors, and is responsible, as one western official says, “for writing the cheques”. While seen by both friends and detractors as a shrewd man who appealed to Qatar officials’ business-minded attitude, Sabbagh has come under criticism for supposedly using his position to control the opposition and further Qatari influence. […] Claims of Qatari dominance of the opposition persisted, even after the coalition was created. True, the Muslim Brotherhood was no longer the main component, but a new bloc of more than a dozen members, brought in by Sabbagh as representatives of local communities in Syria, sparked new disagreements. It was seen as another bloc that was loyal to Qatar. Each of these members was supposed to represent a local council in Syria’s different provinces, and together the councils received $8m from Qatar soon after the formation of the coalition. Qatar was also the first – and possibly the only – country to provide funding for the coalition budget, to the tune of $20m, and it delivered the first $10m out of a pledged $100m package for the organisation’s new humanitarian assistance unit.”
In the beginning of the revolution, there were a lot of analyses by speakers and writers explaining the intervention of Qatar and its axes with stories about gas and oil pipelines. There were a lot of rumors which gave the impression that that was the story, which the Syrian rebels didn’t mind. For them, they wanted to topple the Assad regime at any price. They wanted to end these long decades of dictatorship and knew that it was impossible without international help. Even if we accept such explanation, how could we explain other wars like the wars in Yemen where no gas or oil pipelines. These wars were created by same countries in the same time using the same tools and methods.
If the war was about gas or oil, Assad and Russia should and could behave in a completely different way. At least they wouldn’t need to kill babies or to torture the peaceful innocents. These indications indicated that the story was somewhere else away from oil, gas or any of the similar classic goals of regular wars.
Another explanation assumes that these countries which are ruled by conservative regimes need constant “holy wars“ to get rid of the extremists which might threaten their stability and legitimacy. Wars like that of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Thailand all presented a great chance to send thousands of radical fighters to places where they would happily die.
This could also be an interesting point to western countries as well. The constant existence of holy wars contributed to the work of the western intelligence agencies in may ways, either by helping the “friend regimes” like the Arab Gulf countries or observing the extremists and their activities. The daily scenes in the media which provoke radicals and bring them to one point, was very helpful for these services.
I will relate this point in another way so as to be clear, as it is critical in this respect. If these wars were not based on a religious or sectarian basis, they wouldn’t acknowledge or attract these radical elements. If these wars were just classic wars for oil, gas or economic reasons, without daily news and scenes of rape and killing children, and without news amplified systematically, they would not attract billions of dollars in donations from all around the world. This money, which will be donated from individuals, governments and organizations, will not end up in the the Syrians’ pockets or mouths. It will end up in bank accounts in Turkey or will disappear somewhere along the way.
If we go further in believing some conspiracy theories, these wars could be motivated and pushed by some complexes and cartels which profit directly from them. The bills of such wars are paid for by the tax payers of some countries, while the money ends up in the bank account of some narrow circle of weapons manufacturers and security companies.
Countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are small countries with short-term experience in intelligence work. Furthermore, they have enough money and don’t need to invest in such industries, i.e. the wars industry. Was their role just spontaneous reactions motivated by an adventurous attitude that developed reactively? Were they proxies to some other powers hidden behind them and instructing them?
“Qatar’s ruling family, the al-Thanis, have no ideological or religious affinity with the Islamists – they are simply not choosy about the beliefs held by useful friends. Qatar has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia’s Islamist al-Nahda party, which won the first elections after the popular revolts.” “It is this kind of dynamism and risk-taking at an executive level that has enabled Doha to act as a regional power only a few years after being a diplomatic nobody.”
“[Qatar] hosted the US’s biggest military air base in the region, while maintaining cordial relations with Iran; it held contacts with Israel while simultaneously backing the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hizbollah.”
“One person who influenced the emir’s thinking at the time is Azmi Bishara, a prominent former Arab Israeli MP, exiled in Qatar […]An adviser to the emir and the crown prince, Bishara has become something of a court intellectual in Doha. He is said to have been involved in the formation of the Syrian National Coalition, now the main opposition umbrella group, and to have been used to “test” opposition figures. […](Bishara was not available for comment.)”
The Financial Times magazine published a very interesting report about the Qatari role in Syria beginning a few years before the revolution up until the most recent events.
I will quote from this report the main milestones of this role, but I wish to draw the attention of the reader to an important issue.
What the report describes is not restricted to the Qatari behavior in Syria. When we move to study the roles of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in countries like Egypt, Turkey, Balkan States, Yemen, etc… we see an exact similar scenario…
With some adaptation to the conditions of each country, the practices and tools are the same. These tools are mainly based on invading the targeted country with investment in media, the finance sector, espionage agents under titles like charity organizations, businessmen, and a huge tourism movement…
Ø “It wasn’t long ago that Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma were regular visitors to Doha, as guests of the emir and his second wife, Sheikha Moza. Qatari institutions were big investors in Syria, with a $5bn joint holding company set up in 2008 to develop everything from power stations to hotels.
Ø The emir also championed the international rehabilitation of Assad during his gradual ostracisation by the US, Europe and his Arab peers; Sheikh Hamad was instrumental in restoring Syrian relations with France in the years before the uprising, when he counted the former president Nicolas Sarkozy as a friend. Back then Syria was part of an alliance – with Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbollah”.
Ø “As the Arab world’s bloodiest conflict grinds on, Qatar has emerged as a driving force: pouring in tens of millions of dollars to arm the rebels. Yet it also stands accused of dividing them […]Qatar has contributed – estimated by rebel and diplomatic sources to be about $1bn, but put by people close to the Qatar government at as much as $3bn.”
Ø “But the military stalemate of the Syrian uprising […] has also revealed the recklessness and political impotence that ultimately undermine Qatar’s objectives.
‘The Qataris are overextended […]” comments another diplomat’.
Ø “As the Qataris have attempted to unite the political opposition by championing the formation of the Syrian National Coalition (the main front) they have been accused of dividing it – just as their efforts to shape a fragmented rebel army into a more coherent form by helping to unify the brigades under one command have contributed to its incoherence.”
Ø “By early 2012, as peaceful protests gave way to an armed opposition, Qatar was scouring around for light weaponry, buying arms in Libya and in eastern European states, and flying them to Turkey, where intelligence services helped deliver them across the border. At first, say people with direct knowledge of the arms shipments, Qatar worked through Turkish intelligence to identify recipients, and then, as Saudi Arabia joined the covert military effort, through Lebanese mediators. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms transfers, says that between April 2012 and March this year, more than 70 military cargo flights from Qatar landed in Turkey.”
Ø “As the conflict progressed, the Qataris worked through members of the exiled Muslim Brotherhood to identify rebel factions that should be supported. For example, she says, that is how they linked up with the Farouq brigades, one of the largest and more mainstream factions. Meanwhile, opposition sources say the Qataris have also sent their own special forces to find insurgent groups, and people involved in the weapons business say a Qatari general has been the point man on arms deliveries, travelling to the “operations” room that was set up first in Istanbul and then in Ankara.”