Doha has done much to boost its standing on the international stage in the past few months. Winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup may have grabbed the attention of many, but Qatar has also been sending a small army of diplomats across the globe for more pressing engagements.
Being stuck between the two pivots of the region, Saudi Arabia and Iran, has forced Qatar to get creative with its foreign policy, often using its patronage of the satellite channel Al-Jazeera to amplify its diplomatic efforts.
Until now, they have focused on the quiet task of brokering negotiated settlements in
Lebanon, Darfur and Palestine, and more recently encouraging a peaceful handover of power in Yemen. Seemingly emboldened, Qatar’s diplomats have embarked on a new course, pushing for military intervention in Libya as opposition forces struggle.
Now, the diplomats have been joined by pilots – six French-built Mirage fighter jets from the Qatar Air Force are patrolling the skies above Libya with their Western coalition partners, helping to enforce the no-fly zone.
Providing this kind of diplomatic cover is a risky manoeuvre. The improvised coalition looks set to suffer from mission creep as stalemate in the conflict drags on and the possibility of deploying ground troops grows. While Doha’s support has been crucial to the no-fly zone, it will not want to be drawn into a protracted conflict and possible occupation. Despite Qaddafi’s unpopularity, the implications for Qatar’s position among its Arab brethren would be dire.
At the same time as sending warplanes over Libya, a few hundred Qatari troops have made the shorter journey across the waters to Bahrain to reinforce the Sunni-dominated government resisting a restive Shiite majority – an obligation to a local alliance, as Qatari officials call it. Foreign policy is almost never consistent, but it is always risky.