This is the ultimate “Friend of Syria”. But what is Qatar really up to? Word in Doha is that Qatar may have spent as much as a staggering US\$3 billion to make sure “Assad must go”. Yet he hasn’t gone anywhere. Even the Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, deposed himself this week, to the benefit of his son, former “heir apparent” Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani (see We are all Qataris now, Asia Times Online, June 26, 2013). But Bashar al-Assad stays put. What gives?
Qatar has spent a fortune weaponizing the myriad Syrian “rebel” factions, buying everything from stashes in Libya to new stuff in Croatia, flown as cargo and distributed by Turkish intelligence (there’s an alternative weapons flow by Sunni Lebanese connected to the Saudis.) The chief weaponizer is a Qatari general.
Doha has dispatched Qatari Special Forces on the ground – just as in Libya – to advise “their” favorite batch of rebels. Crucially, these Special Forces are experienced instructors. They are not Qatari; they are Pakistani – as detailed in this must-read dossier.
It goes without saying that these Pakistanis hail from the same tradition of schooling of the mujahideen in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s. We all know what came out of it. Asia Times Online has extensively reported that Syria is the new Afghanistan – but now with extra bonus jihadi gore, developed in the Iraq war, such as suicide bombing, beheading and intestine-eating.
It’s no secret most of the rebels are mercenaries – usually paid \$1,300 a month directly by the Qataris, with an extra \$1,000 if they carry out a special ops. Quite a few have also developed a secondary career as YouTube videos uploaders, the weapon of choice in Arab networks (not to mention Western) to prove how “evil” the Assad regime is.
Alongside Washington, Doha also perpetuates the myth that CIA operatives help to vet these rebels – with the Supreme Military Council collecting all the weapons and organizing the distribution. Anyone who believes this believes Saddam Hussein’s WMDs are on sale on eBay.
Moreover, the Syrian embassy in Doha is unique in the world – as it’s entirely populated by “rebels”. Hardcore Qatari lobbying forced the 22-nation Arab League – which is now, essentially, the Gulf Cooperation Council League – to hand over Syria’s seat to the rebels. The Syrian National Coalition (SNC) – the latest, messy, rebel political outfit – was announced in, where else, Doha in November 2012. Depending on the Arab latitude involved, the Qatari agenda is depicted as either uniting or dividing the SNC.
The only element that remains stable is Qatar’s foreign policy directive of denying nothing to the Muslim Brotherhood – as in, for instance, support for the al-Farouq brigades, who, in theory, control a few suburbs of Aleppo.
Caught in a trap
With the ascension of Tamim, the new emir, the key question is whether this orgy of weaponizing, truckloads of money, hardcore lobbying and diplomatic cover has translated, or will translate, into any tangible benefits for the emirate.
The simplistic official storyline spun by Doha is that the emir and his son advised Assad not to repress the initial Syrian protests in early 2011. But then, just like that, he decided to “kill people” – in the words of former prime minister Hamad bin Jassim, also known as HBJ, conveniently uttered at a Brookings Institution talkfest. What’s not admitted is that Doha jumped at the opportunity of Syria becoming the new Libya – when Qatar literally opened the skies for bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
To follow corporate Western and Arab media, one might be excused to think Tamim is the New Messiah. He has been incessantly hailed as “The Arab Spring monarch”, so “young” and “modern”, a jogger, an auto and sports enthusiast, and proud enabler of two “accomplished” wives already.
He’s more like the emir of the Muslim Brotherhood Spring – considering his very close ties with extremely sectarian superstar al-Jazeera tele-cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has for all practical purposes called for a jihad against Alawites and Shi’ites in Syria. The sheikh is one of Tamim’s top consultants.
It’s also no secret that Qatar’s foreign policy essentially takes its orders from Washington. There are nuances, of course; Qatar may have convinced the Obama administration to align its foreign policy with the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Obama administration may have taken this reckless decision by itself. Tamim may have convinced the Taliban to open an office in Doha by himself, or he may have followed a “suggestion” from the Obama administration. The fact remains that Tamim meets all the time with State Department and Pentagon stalwarts. And he is also in charge of those precious weapons contracts with the US and also France.
Then there are the fractioned relations with the House of Saud. Word in Doha is that Tamim was responsible for initiating the 2010 strategic dialogue with the Saudis. He is formally the president of the Qatari-Saudi Higher Council. This means he’s always in touch with Saudi intelligence supremo Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz who, apparently, was a big fan of the Qatari handover. It’s no secret as well that the true power behind the handover was the awesome Sheikha Mozah, Tamin’s mom.
The Muqrin connection does make sense because the House of Saud absolutely loathed the relatively flamboyant HBJ – not to mention being extremely suspicious of the previous emir. The HBJ gang has been more or less sidelined in Doha. Tamim appointed Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa bin Nasser al-Thani as the new prime minister. From now on HBJ will be engaged in life in the fast lane in London managing the multi-billionaire Qatar Investment Authority. Not a bad deal.
It’s unclear whether Qatar’s influence in Syria will continue to be that prominent. Now everyone knows the CIA is amassing a formidable weapons stockpile in Jordan to be handed – via its “elaborate” vetting system – to hundreds of trained-by-USA “good” Syrian rebels only. Jordan and the Emirates are being propelled to the privileged frontline, with the Saudis supplying loads of portable anti-aircraft weapons. Qatar may be left weaponizing just a handful of inconsequent militias. This remains to be seen in August, with an already much-advertised rebel attack on Damascus.
The proxy war is bound to become even more horrific. And there’s no guarantee Assad will go. The “young and modern” emir of the Muslim Brotherhood Spring may soon reach the conclusion he is caught in a trap of his, and his father’s making.