Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Britain has welcomed close ties, but it’s time to hit Qataris with sanctions

SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The support of Parliament for British participation in air strikes in northern Iraq is welcome but leaves crucial questions unanswered.

The most serious flaw in the international response to the Islamic State threat is the failure to see Iraq and Syria requiring a common military and political strategy.

The Islamic State terrorists have, effectively, abolished the international border between these two countries.

To some extent this has been recognised by the United States, which has launched air strikes against terrorist targets in both countries.

These air strikes, over a period of weeks, are likely to have a serious degrading effect on the terrorist infrastructure in Syria, as well as Iraq.

This will be invaluable and should prevent Islamic State from taking control of further swathes of both countries.

However, air strikes alone cannot force the terrorists to withdraw from the towns and cities under their control. To achieve that needs ground combat forces, especially when it comes to the need to liberate Mosul in Iraq and the north-east of Syria from the terrorists.

In Iraq that need is met by the Kurdish peshmerga and by the Iraqi army as it is strengthened. In Syria, it should be met by the Free Syrian Army, but it is too weak and has been losing, not gaining, ground recently.

There are only two options if American and British ground forces are not going to be used. Either we must build up the Free Syrian Army, or the Assad regime’s armed forces will be the only troops capable of driving the Islamic State terrorists from their strongholds.

We either arm the Free Syrian Army or we rely on Assad. It is a very unpalatable choice. One thing is clear. The quicker we make that choice the better.

There is, however, an equally crucial issue that needs to be dealt with quickly, and not just by Britain. This is the ambivalence of some of our Arab allies in their policy towards Islamic State and other terrorist organisations.

At one level they are being very robust, and that is to be welcomed. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the air strikes led by the United States. Qatar, while not sending its aircraft, is giving political support.

However, one of the most significant reasons why Islamic State and other jihadi terrorist groups in the Middle East are so strong has been the financial support and arms supplies they have received, in part from people in Saudi Arabia and UAE, but particularly from Qatar.

Some of this help has been from the governments of these countries. Conservative and authoritarian themselves, they wish to see political change in Arab states lead to Islamist, rather than democratic, governments.

But a lot of the financial support has also been from rich individuals in the Gulf states, who have channelled support to Islamic State through bogus charities.

The Telegraph has documented the various ways in which Qatar has been helping extreme Islamist organisations, both in Syria and in Libya. Sometimes this is direct help to these groups. Often it is by providing cash to Turkish middlemen who buy armaments from arms dealers and pass them on to the Islamist terrorists.

It is now necessary for Britain and other European states to follow the US lead and impose sanctions on these Qataris and other individual Arabs who are financing terrorism. Much greater pressure on their governments is also essential, with Qatar inevitably the main target until it demonstrates it has taken the necessary action. If it declines to do so the United Kingdom may need to reassess its whole relationship with Qatar.

That country has a close, economic and investment relationship with Britain. It owns Harrods and has a major stake in the Shard and many other London properties.

We have welcomed this relationship, and would still like to do so. But it will become impossible if Qatar is, simultaneously, funding terrorists, or allowing its citizens to provide weapons to Islamist organisations that murder British citizens and try to undermine our society.

The Qataris are, primarily, concerned with their own security. This has led them to an ambiguous strategy of developing close relationships with the Americans, the British and other Western governments while providing sanctuary to organisations like Hamas and, for example, providing help to the Islamist extremists who recently seized control of Libya’s parliament in Tripoli.

These conflicting policies have already antagonised their Gulf Arab neighbours, some of whom withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar.

The Qatari government must be told, unequivocally, that it can, no longer, run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. They must choose their friends or live with the consequences.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP was defence secretary and then foreign secretary, between 1992 and 1997

Source: The Telegraph

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