As Paul McCartney and John Lennon used to sing, “money can’t buy me love.” The same can be said about some countries such as Qatar, that has inexplicably spent billions of dollars to buy itself perhaps some additional prestige by delving into the great game of geopolitics, presumably after it ran out of European first division football (soccer) teams, five-star hotels and
upscale Swiss banks it could buy.What is it that propelled this tiny Arab country (albeit with a very big ego) to get involved in frontline politics, as it is today involved in the Syrian civil war? Qatar became, along with Saudi Arabia, the main financial backer of the anti-regime Islamists, particularly the group known as Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Saudis later toned down their active participation, but Qatar continued to pour money into the Syrian civil war.
As is often the case in the Arab world, there are at least two versions of the events: the official version and what is really happening.
The case of the Syrian civil war (if it should even still be called that is now doubtful, given the number of countries directly involved in the conflict) it is no different. Officially, Qatar says it is not involved with Jabhat al-Nusra, unofficially it’s a different story.
Dr. David Roberts, a lecturer in the Defense Studies Department at King’s College in London, says that the Nusra Front has emerged as al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria in 2012.
“It has been frequently claimed that Qatar has relatively close ties, probably through intermediaries, with the Nusra Front. The Qatar foreign ministry has denied this, and proof is, unsurprisingly, difficult to find,” said Roberts. He was the Director of the Qatar office of the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) and author of “Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City State” will be published in 2015.
One clue suggesting some close connection between Qatar and al-Nusra says Roberts, has been Qatar’s “prolific record of resolving hostage situations in Syria.” Among them were 13 Greek Orthodox nuns, an American journalist, and 45 Fijian peacekeepers who have been released in the last 18 months with Qatar’s and, it appears, often the Nusra Front’s help.
“The Nusra Front is widely seen as one of the most effective rebel groups operating in Syria,” adds Roberts. Yet as a group directly affiliated with al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front is nearer the IS end of the spectrum.
Despite all the financial backing al-Nusra Front must receive from Qatar, the group still remains semi-independent from following all of Doha’s directives. In Doha meanwhile, the foreign ministry denies all ties to the Islamist group.
Asks Roberts: “This begs the question of why Qatar would want even loosely to associate itself with a group like the Nusra Front.”
Again, prestige? Or is Doha doing Saudi Arabia’s dirty work? Or even Washington’s?
Roberts again: “There are no “good choices” in Syria today. Qatar has surmised, it seems, that supporting or transforming the Nusra Front, is one of the “least worst” options. Secondly, the Nusra Front has pledged to concentrate its efforts on removing the Bashar al-Assad government, as opposed to attacking the “far enemy” (ie Western states). On this point, the Nusra Front is aligned tightly with Qatar, which also is implacably against the government and fundamentally believes that the situation in Syria will only improve if he is removed.”
The Nusra Front group is widely seen as one of the most effective groups operating in Syria against a wider backdrop of splintered groups whose powers are highly limited.
Al-Nusra may be marginally better than the Islamic State, but let us not lose sight that their goal is the establishment of an Islamic state in Syria and that regardless of how many zeros Qatar inserts after the dollar amount on the check, they will never succeed in buying love. They will, however, have no difficulty in buying hatred.
Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend News Agency, and a contributing editor to UPI. You can follow Claude on Twitter @Claudesalhani.