Qatar has challenged Saudi Arabia by fortifying its political ties with Iran – as opposed to reducing as Saudi Arabia and its partners have requested.
Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states have been barring Qatar since early June and have requested that Qatar check its ties with Iran, and also close down its al-Jazeera broadcasting company and remove fanatics from its region.
Instead of give in to the barricading countries’ demands, Qatar reported on Thursday that it was reestablishing full strategic relations with Iran and sending its diplomat back to Tehran interestingly since 2016.
“The state of Qatar expressed its aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran in all fields,” The Qatari foreign ministry said.
There was no immediate response from Saudi Arabia or its allies in Bahrain, UAE and Egypt to the diplomatic move.
The act of defiance came amid suspicions among Qatar’s leaders that Saudi Arabia might be trying to engineer a palace coup against its emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
Their fears were raised after Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, met with an obscure Qatari royal for in Jeddah last week.
The royal, Abdullah al-Thani, has no role in the Qatari government and is from a branch of the royal family that was pushed out of power during a 1972 coup.
Abdullah had previously lived in Saudi Arabia and at the meeting spoke warmly of “brotherly relations rooted in history” between the two countries.
Prince Mohammed responded by opening the Saudi land border to Muslim pilgrims from Qatar who wanted to make the Hajj journey to Mecca, and offering to fly other pilgrims directly to Saudi Arabia.
Gerd Nonneman, a professor of International Relations and Gulf Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar, said the meeting was more likely intended as a “propaganda ploy” by Saudi Arabia intended to “needle the Qatari leadership”.
While Saudi Arabia and Iran are archrivals – and are opposing sides in conflicts across the Middle East – there are some indications of a slight thaw.
The two countries foreign ministers met recently and the two sides are planning mutual diplomatic visits next month for the first time since January 2016.