No Deal Until Qatar Stops Financing Terrorism | Opinion

A reconciliation is only as great as its specific terms and implementation. With normalization deals proliferating across the Middle East, one of the biggest might soon resolve an ongoing proxy war between Qatar and the "Quartet," an alliance composed of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt.

There are many rumors surrounding the supposedly impending deal. One source predicts Saudi Arabia will end its years-long blockade in return for Qatar dropping its related lawsuits against it. Another source predicts a deal honing coexistence, rather than reconciliation. Speculation abounds after Doha received 13 demands, including ultimatums to shed its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and to close its Al Jazeera Network. The U.S. also has a stake, hoping to resolve a feud that has compromised efforts to counter the Iranian regime.

As promising as reconciliation would be, the Quartet must refuse any deal that excludes Qatar's unequivocal promise to cease its profligate terrorism financing. While Qatar's ties to Iran might be tolerated, given its geographic realities, its financial support for terrorist organizations and Islamist insurrections cannot be accepted.

Otherwise, the Quartet's blockade will have gone on three and a half years for naught, compromising regional security and the integrity of the Quartet's possible future efforts to contain Iran.

Since the Arab Spring, an era of revolution engulfing the Middle East, the Quartet has countered Qatar, its terrorism financing and its Iran ties. Qatar has since funneled $1.1 billion to Hamas, a terrorist organization that has incited multiple wars while aspiring for Israel's destruction.

Qatar has also gifted billions of dollars to regimes bearing semblance to Hamas's forebear, the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization per the Quartet, while also financing Islamists and their civil wars across Libya, Syria and Yemen.

With actions come consequences. In 2014, three of the Quartet's members withdrew their ambassadors from Doha after discovering Qatari financial and weaponry aid to Ahrar al-Sham, a group that coordinated attacks with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the successor of Al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al Nusra.

In 2017, the Quartet blockaded Qatar as a consequence of its terror financing and ties to Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional competitor. The blockade persists and has inconvenienced Qatar's state-run airline. Qatar is now suing for $5 billion in compensation.

Amidst rumors that a Kuwait-U.S. brokered deal could reconcile the Arabian Gulf, the Quartet must not compromise its blockade's fundamental purpose: not necessarily opposition to Qatar's Iran ties, but opposition to Qatar's backing of Islamism.

This purpose becomes apparent when juxtaposing the Quartet's relations with Qatar and Oman—countries that share ties with Iran, but differ in their stances regarding terrorism financing.

Qatar's ties to Iran, which threaten the region via its aspiring nuclear program, are problematic but not dispositive. The Quartet can forgive relations predicated on geographic necessity, such as Qatar's with Iran, an inevitability given the two nations' sharing of the world's largest natural gas field. However, the Quartet cannot forgive terrorism financing that destabilizes an entire region.

It is why the Quartet enjoys relations with terrorism-combating Oman—a country that also has "strong ties" to Iran, with which it shares control over the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-third of the world's oil supply passes—but not with terrorism-financing Qatar.

As a matter of precedent and legitimacy, the Quartet must not deal with Qatar unless it stops its terrorism financing, which manifests both economically and diplomatically. Restoring previous ties at any other cost would convey a renewed tolerance—and thus victory—for Islamism and its leading financiers.

Doha, Qatar skyline
Doha, Qatar skyline TF-Images via Getty Images

It would undermine regional security, restoring impunity for regimes to finance terrorist organizations that have, at minimum, exacerbated violence—and, at maximum, incited wars.

Cheap reconciliation with an Islamist Qatar would also signify a concession of wrongdoing on the Quartet's part, evidenced by departing from its fundamental objective—its fight against Islamism.

A quick deal at any other cost would thus compromise the Quartet's legitimacy, which is needed now more than ever, especially if it is to address Iran and its nuclear program—whose uranium stockpile now exceeds 12 times the limit afforded by the 2015 nuclear deal.

As a nuclear Iran nears reality, so too does the likelihood of intervention. Thus, last month, President Trump inquired about a strike on Iran, and Israel and Saudi Arabia secretly met to discuss their common foe. Support for any such intervention is best forged through international consensus, aided by the Quartet's current anti-Islamism campaign.

If the Quartet's members are to condemn Iran's Islamism and sponsorship of terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East, it must likewise do so for Qatar's. Doing anything otherwise could create an impression of hypocrisy, transforming perception of the Quartet from one forged by a mission of shared principles to one grounded in ulterior national interests—quelling regional threats and asserting influence.

The Quartet should proceed patiently—it has little to lose in maintaining its blockade. Indeed, a vengeful and flailing Qatar has sued the Quartet, but the International Court of Justice notoriously lacks enforcement power, and thus the ability to cajole Quartet compliance.

Qatar also lacks the military might to preempt any alternative reality. It ranks 90th out of 138 surveyed countries in terms of military power, posing little threat to the Quartet, whose least mighty member, Bahrain, ranks 93rd, while its mightiest, Egypt, ranks 9th.

With the Quartet capable of calling the shots, it must command Qatar to end its terrorism financing that has inflamed the Middle East. The Quartet must do so unflinchingly, demonstrating to Iran its resolve against Islamism, while also vindicating the integrity of its invaluable anti-Islamism campaign.

Jordan Cope is the Qatari finance fellow at the Middle East Forum. Follow him on Twitter.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.