In recent weeks, the assumption that Qatar is a close U.S. ally, always dependable as a steady hand in the roiling Mideast, has been tested. The Gulf nation has had its requests not just questioned but strenuously challenged by U.S. military officials concerned about Qatar’s ultimate loyalties in the war on terrorism. However, in spite of Qatar’s historically close relationship with the U.S., strains in the alliance that have been building for years are beginning to manifest themselves in a variety of public disagreements.
On the surface, the disagreements trace to cracks in the U.S.-led counterterrorism alliance over balancing opposition to Syria’s regime with effective strategies to degrade ISIS’s aggressive capabilities. Just beneath that surface are major disagreements over how the coalition members should react to the Muslim fundamentalism seen to feed violent extremism:
“Qatar views Iran as a problem that can be managed. Saudi Arabia views Iran as a mortal danger that must be given no quarter. Qatar has championed the Muslim Brotherhood as a vehicle for political evolution across the Middle East, while the Saud[is] came to loath the Brotherhood … viewing it as a threat to stability and order in the Muslim world…. Subsequently, Riyadh has inveighed Doha to cease its support for Brotherhood-aligned Islamists in Syria and elsewhere around the Gulf”.
With Middle East security as a constantly evolving dynamic, manifestations of policy discord have begun to take on palpable defense implications. For example, Qatar’s longstanding dependence on the U.S. to supply its fledgling air force with F-15 fighter jets has started to draw fire from Israel, which fears a shift in the Mideast’s delicate security balance. While Israel’s opposition to the F-15 sales would seem to frame a clear U.S. decision, the reality is more complicated: what to do with and for Qatar is as much an example of negotiating the narrow space between Israeli and Saudi foreign policy as it is an example of the need for the U.S. to align Qatar with robust military contributions to oust Assad from Syria. Going forward, U.S. policy toward Qatar can be expected to follow an erratic “zig-zag” path until such major policy goals as removal of Assad and defeat of ISIS become closer to realization.