Date: Wednesday, 14 June 2017
JUNE 14, 2017
A former director of Qatar’s intelligence agency broke ranks with the government of Qatar and accused Doha of supporting terrorism. He also warned that the United States, which has a base in Qatar, would not allow the presence of foreign troops there.
Tensions between Qatar and other predominantly Muslim countries rose dangerously in recent weeks. The crisis erupted soon after Qatar’s state-controlled news agency published an interview with the country’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, in which he appeared to praise Iran and Israel, Saudi Arabia’s primary regional adversaries. Despite protestations by the Saudi government, the Qatari emir then contacted Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, to congratulate him on his reelection, a move that was interpreted as adversarial by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia also feels threatened by Al Jazeera, a Qatari-based television network with worldwide reach, which is often critical of the Gulf’s oil monarchies other than Qatar.
Last week, Saudi Arabia and 16 other predominantly Muslim countries, including Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, announced a series of diplomatic, commercial and military sanctions on Qatar. The sanctions are ostensibly designed to curtail the country’s alleged support for international terrorism. Riyadh and its allies accuse Doha of secretly supporting militant groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Hamas and the Taliban, among others. Currently all sea, air and land connections between these 16 countries and Qatar have been suspended, while no diplomatic relations exist between them. The tense situation has prompted some analysts to describe the diplomatic crisis as the worst in the Gulf region since the 1991 Gulf War.
In response to the diplomatic boycott, the government of Qatar said last week that it would invite military personnel from three of its allies, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey, to protect its territory. But the former director of Qatar’s intelligence service said in an interview on Monday that Qatar’s threat would not materialize. Major General Mahmoud Mansour (ret.) was the first director of the Qatar State Security Bureau (QSS), an agency founded in 2004 under the Ministry of the Interior, as a result of the merging of two previously separate organizations, the Investigation and State Security Service and the General Intelligence Service —known as Mukhabarat. The retired general spoke to the Mecca-based Makkah newspaper by phone, and appeared deeply critical of Doha’s diplomatic maneuvers. He told the Saudi newspaper that the deployment of troops from foreign countries without the consent of the United States would be “impossible” and that the statements from Doha were “nothing but sound waves in the air”.
Since 2002, Qatar has hosted the US Central Command’s forward headquarters, and it is estimated that around 11,000 American troops are currently based in the small Gulf country. In addition to the numerous US military operations in Central Asia and the Middle East that are based out of Doha, Qatar often serves as an intermediary between Washington and a host of militant groups in the wider region, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban. Therefore, the US, which is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, has been hesitant to take sides in the current dispute between Riyadh and Doha. During his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, US President Donald Trump described Qatar as “a crucial strategic partner”. But following the announcement of the Saudi diplomatic embargo against Qatar, the American president tweeted that he hoped it would mark the “beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism”.
In his interview, General Mansour agreed with the Saudi position that Qatar has been secretly assisting militant groups abroad, and stated that Qatari agents have provided political and material assistance to Islamist militants in several countries in Africa, including Somalia, Eritrea and Egypt. He also said that Qatari assistance is regularly given to militants in the Levant, as well as in Gulf countries. The retired spy chief also alleged that Doha provides covert assistance to the Islamic State, saying that he would not be surprised to find out that the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been given shelter in Qatar.