Among the many countries that supported Libya's rebels in their fight to unseat Muammar al-Qaddafi, Qatar was a particularly enthusiastic partner. The Arab emirate of just 1.6 million people, rich in oil and gas, was the first Arab country to recognize the rebel government, the Transitional National Council. It sold Libyan oil on behalf of the rebels to avoid sanctions and supplied them with gas, diesel, and millions of dollars in aid. And Al Jazeera, the satellite broadcaster based in Doha, covered the struggle of the Libyan rebels in even greater detail and depth than it has the Arab world's other revolutionary movements.
On the surface, such actions appear in line with Qatar's recent behavior. Since the mid-1990s, Qatar has pursued an activist foreign policy, using its affluence, unthreatening military position, and skills as a mediator to interject itself in conflicts around the Middle East and beyond.
Still, Qatar's actions in Libya took most analysts by surprise when, in March, it sent six Mirage fighter jets (which likely represented the majority of Qatar's operational fighter strength) to join in NATO air operations. This move signaled a qualitative change in Qatari foreign policy. Over the years, the country has involved itself (with mixed success) in a range of international disputes: In 2008, it mediated a successful resolution to the 18-month-long political stalemate in Lebanon, and in recent years has facilitated temporary agreements between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels. But never before has Qatar so overtly supported one side or made such an active intervention.
Nor were fighters the only matériel the emirate sent the rebels. In April, Qatari transport aircraft regularly departed Doha with armaments for the rebels, including French-made Milan antitank missiles and Belgian-made FN assault rifles. Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani declared that Qatar was sending "defensive" weaponry to the rebels, but news accounts from Tripoli suggest the support went even further. Qatari special forces reportedly provided basic infantry training to Libyan rebel fighters in
Loading, please wait...