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Qatar and its strange ambition

world Updated: Nov 15, 2011 23:57 IST
Anthony Shadid

Qatar is smaller than Connecticut, and its native population, at 225,000, wouldn’t fill Cairo’s bigger neighbourhoods. But for a country that inspires equal parts irritation and admiration, here is its résumé, so far, in the Arab revolts: It has proved decisive in isolating Syria’s leader, helped topple Libya’s, offered itself as a mediator in Yemen and counts Tunisia’s most powerful figure as a friend.

This Persian Gulf nation has emerged as the most dynamic Arab country in the tumult realigning the region. Its intentions remain murky to its neighbours and even allies - some say Qatar has a Napoleon complex, others say it has an Islamist agenda.

But its clout is a lesson in what can be gained with some of the world’s largest gas reserves, the region’s most influential news network in Al Jazeera, an array of contacts (many with an Islamist bent), and policy-making in an absolute monarchy vested in the hands of one man, its emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

Qatar has become a vital counterpoint in an Arab world where traditional powers are roiled by revolution, ossified by aging leaderships, or still reeling from civil war, and where the US is viewed as a power in decline.

Flanked by the region’s biggest rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Qatar has always played an outsize role in the gulf, but never to this degree. It hosts a sprawling US air base, but some American officials are suspicious of its recent backing of Islamist leaders, particularly in the war in Libya.

But for all the contradictions in its policies Qatar is advancing a decisive shift in Arab politics that many in the West have yet to embrace: a West Asia dominated by mainstream Islamist parties brought to power in a region that is more democratic, more conservative and more tumultuous. nyt

Israel suspected in Iran blast

London: Time’s correspondent in Jerusalem, Karl Vick, reported the Israel was responsible for the huge blast on Saturday at a Revolutionary Guard missile base, 35 km from Tehran.
Vick quotes a western intelligence source as saying that Mossad carried out the sabotage attack, adding that more such attacks are to be expected — “There are more bullets in the magazine.” If true, it would be the most damaging blow to date in the covert war against Iran’s nuclear weapons programme.
gns