“Doha has been silently expanding its influence in Lebanon” according to Associated Press, despite Gulf neighbours following big brother Saudi Arabia’s lead, reportedly ostracizing Lebanon in recent years due to the growing influence of Hezbollah, believed to be backed by Iran. Qatar continued to support Lebanon throughout multiple crises.
In Paris yesterday, Qatar joined a meeting to discuss Lebanon’s economic and political crises with officials from the US, and Saudi Arabia in Paris for the first time. Standing by Iran, withstanding the resulting blockade and “walking the walk” according to a source from CNN, Qatar might be the only Gulf nation Iran trusts, and is therefore best placed to act as a mediator for a resolution in Lebanon, along with Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Qatar’s relationship with Iran is believed to have been the main cause of the blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain in 2017. Dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has vastly improved since the two countries came to a settlement in January 2021 that ended the blockade, recently resulting in Doha’s increasing importance as a mediator with Iran and Lebanon.
Doha has been attempting to progress negotiations between Tehran and Gulf nations for some time. Qatar’s inclusion in today’s talks “is a signal that Iran will not be completely left out of that meeting and a recognition of the influence that Tehran has over Lebanon,” Mohamad Bazzi, a professor and director at New York University, told Associated Press.
In 2020 Saudi Arabia boycotted Lebanese products, following a Lebanese official’s comments on Saudi involvement in Yemen. The boycott was adopted by Gulf nations, except Qatar, that was suffering a blockade by its neighbours at the time.
Qatar’s attempts to help Lebanon get back on its feet are not new. In 2006, following the destruction in the wake of the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel, Qatar helped rebuild several towns and villages that suffered major destruction in southern Lebanon. Giant billboards that read “Thank You Qatar” were spread across the country.
In 2008, after the worst fighting in Beirut since the civil war of 1975-80, Lebanon’s leaders flew to Qatar where they signed off on a deal called the “Doha Agreement”, ending an 18-month deadlock and triggering elections of a new president and government that resulted in a period of calm and economic growth.
Lebanon’s economy began a freefall in 2019, with its currency devaluating by 90% amid mismanagement and corruption. Doha’s interventions in Lebanon are believed to have been more of a stabilizing force than that of its neighbours, although they do not come without demands in return. According to AP, “International donors, including Qatar, have been demanding the government implement reforms to release some $11 billion in loans and grants”.
Last June, Qatar sent Lebanon $60 million to help the country’s armed forces by supporting the Lebanese army’s salaries, on top of their supporting monthly supplies of food. Doha continuously receives Lebanese leaders and is said to support the head of the army as the next President.
“Strengthening Lebanon’s military has long been a policy of the United States, which sees the force as a counterbalance to Hezbollah” Associated Press reported. While Qatar is not officially backing any party, it reportedly supports Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, as Lebanon’s next President, which Hezbollah is said to oppose.