The emir of Qatar has called for an armed intervention of Arab nations in Syria. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the ruler of the tiny but enormously wealthy Persian Gulf state, told CBS News’ 60 Minutes in an interview that was broadcast on Sunday that in order “to stop the killing, some troops should go.”
The uprising in Syria has gone on for nearly a year but unlike was the case in Libya, where Arab and Western countries intervened last year with military force to stop the brutalities which Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi’s government committed against demonstrators, President Bashar al-Assad has been able to kill probably several thousand people in an effort to crush the civil unrest.
Syria was suspended as a member of the Arab League in November and monitors of the organization’s have been sent into the country to examine the situation. Barring further international pressure though, it would be difficult if not impossible for the protesters to overthrow the Ba’athist regime.
Qatar was among few Arab states that pushed for an intervention in Libya last year and along with the United Arab Emirates, the only regional member of the international coalition to support the effort with military assets.
Six Qatari fighter jets and two transport aircraft participated in the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya while Qatar supplied weapons to the rebels which ultimately enabled them to tilt the balance of the war in their favor.
Qatar’s natural gas wealth and popular monarchy enable the emirate to conduct an activist foreign policy. Qatar is aligned to neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United States and aims to position itself as a mediator between Arab states and the West. To that end, it has reached out to organizations as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Afghan Taliban without jeopardizing ties and arms deals with the Americans. Where Western nations are hesitant to engage in talks with radical Islamist organizations, the Qataris have no such reluctance.
For a small nation of just a quarter million people, situated between Saudi Arabia and Iran, being friends with everyone is a policy of survival. As the emir put it, “Don’t you think this is a good policy for a small country?”
David Roberts observed in Foreign Affairs magazine last year that “being at the forefront of popular Arab opinion and defending fellow Arabs against an onslaught from a widely hated dictator is a priceless commodity” for Qatar’s leaders, “both at home and abroad.” It may be the only leverage they have.