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GIGA Focus Nahost

Qatar’s Relations with Iran: More Tactical Than Strategic

Number: 4 | 07/2017 | ISSN: 1862-3611


On 5 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt severed their diplomatic relations with Qatar, alleging that the emirate was pursuing collaboration with Iran. An ultimatum to stop this course followed. However, these moves were motivated more by Saudi Arabia’s ambition to get all monarchies on the Arabian Peninsula to fall in line against Iran and less by a real fear of a strategic partnership between Qatar and Iran.

  • The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to which all Arab Gulf monarchies have belonged since 1981, proved defenceless in the 1990 Kuwait crisis, leading to all GCC member states subsequently signing security agreements with the United States. Qatar, due to its extremely vulnerable position, also established comparatively good relations with Iran, by far its strongest non-GCC neighbour.

  • In addition, Qatar is pursuing the strategy of maintaining relations with “friend and foe” in order to become “indispensable” as a “hinge” and mediator. It is into this strategy where the good relationship with Iran fits tactically. This strategy of diversification has proved successful several times in the past, but Qatar has also often been criticised for the “arbitrariness” of its position.

  • Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and operates the world’s largest natural gas field (North Dome/South Pars) together with Iran. Qatar’s resulting huge foreign exchange revenues would be directly threatened by a confrontation with Iran. This dependency is unique within the GCC.

  • In all main aspects, Qatar still benefits from its membership in the GCC. Therefore, it is not interested in complicating its tactical exposure to Iran through a strategic reorientation.

Policy Implications

Qatar runs the risk of being crushed between Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are bitterly fighting for supremacy in the Gulf and in the Islamic world. In an open war, Qatar’s very existence would be at risk. Germany and the European Union can help prevent a further escalation by providing support for regional mediation efforts currently being carried out by GCC members Kuwait and Oman.



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