State formation and territorial conflict (1971-1995) - neighbors, brothers, family: ingroup identification and the discovery’ of similarity
In contrast to most of the other case studies, the similarities between the two members of the dyad are striking. Even among the relatively homogenous group of small Gulf monarchies, they stand out for their shared attributes.2
Bahrain and Qatar are contiguous neighbors, small countries that are practically city states - in fact, the smallest among the Gulf monarchies. In the timeframe of the analysis, both political systems were similar, with a dynastic system presided over by an emir (Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa proclaimed himself king of Bahrain in 2002, i.e. after the settlement of the dispute) and ruling family members in most other key positions. Both the Al Khalifa in Bahrain and the Al Thani in Qatar legitimize their rule via tradition: they were the pre-eminent shaikhs at the time of the British arrival and became the dominant actors in the state-building process that followed the formative British presence and oil exploitation.
The comparatively modernized and liberalized polity of newly independent Bahrain and Qatar, in contrast to other small Gulf monarchies, led scholars to set them apart as examples of a slightly less paternalistic “modern paternalism”, just after their independence in 1971 (Sadik and Snavely 1972, 143). Early on, Bahrain installed the National Assembly (majlis al-watanf) and Qatar the Council of Ministers (majlis al-nawwab) and the Consultative Council (majlis al-shura) (Sadik and Snavely 1972,143). While their neighbors have caught up in establishing participatory political institutions (and state institutions in general) besides traditional audience fora like majalis and diwaniyyas, another wave of liberalization, including a new constitution, followed the 1999 succession of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Bahrain and 1995 of Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in Qatar (the constitutions came into effect in 2002 in Bahrain and 2004 in Qatar). The position of ruling family remains dominant, and participation of other political actors is highly limited, but Bahrain's semi-elected National Assembly makes its system more competitive. Qatar has elections only for the municipal council, although elections for the consultative council have been announced for years (Bahry 1999; cf. Commins 2012, 197-199; Lawson 1989; Ulrichsen 2014).
Economically, both countries could follow a similar development path because they also both started oil exploration at a similar time, in the 1950s (oil was discovered in both countries in the 1930s), although Qatar quickly overtook Bahrain in the amount of production (Sadik and Snavely 1972, 145). Both have similar economies, being rentier states with a proportionally high non-citizen population of expat workers, although Qatar’s share of expatriates is significantly higher. Since the 1980s, the two national economies have started to diverge as Bahraini oil dried up (Commins 2012, 203, 212).
However, before independence, the development was uneven because general education had been introduced much earlier in Bahrain and because its state institutions were more developed, not least due to the longer-entrenched British presence (Sadik and Snavely 1972, 145-147). This is reflected in the condescending attitudes of Bahrainis toward Qataris as “country cousins”, noted by Qataris and their rulers as late as the 1950s (Belgrave 1972, 158) and the British asymmetric handling of the two shaikhs. A telling example is a 1948-1949 correspondence between the UK government and the Bahraini emir relayed in a US embassy cable of 1976, which, in a bracketed "FYI”, quotes the UK's “contention that while Bahrain clearly had sovereign rights over Hawar island group, Jinan island to the south of Hawar belonged not to ‘His Highness the Amir of Bahrain' but to ‘His Excellency the Shaikh of Qatar'. End FYI” (Cable: Qatar-Bahrain Median Line 1976). The difference in styles makes the “amir” superior to the “shaikh”. In stark contrast to "Highness”, “Excellency” is a title used mostly for non-royals. This asymmetry initially impeded the recognition of equality, the basis for ingroup identification. With the development of modern state apparatuses and the consolidation of borders, the underlying causes for the asymmetry gradually eroded, and ingroup identification could follow.
In terms of kinship and culture, their ruling families share a descent from the Anaza tribal federation from the central Arabian Najd, as do the Kuwaiti Al Sabah and the Al Saud (in addition, the Al Khalifa and the Al Sabah descend from the same tribe of Utub) ('Abd al-Hakim al-Wa'ili 2002a, 2002b; Assiri 1990, 2). Due to the fluidity of borders and territorial proximity, there is a certain degree of intermarriage, even during periods of tense relations. For instance, a grandson of the Bahraini ruler Abdallah bin Ahmad Al Khalifa married a daughter of the “founder” of Qatar, Jassim bin Muhammad Al Thani, in the 19th century (Cooke 2014, 38-39). Sometimes, like among historical European monarchies, marriages were arranged for political reasons: to bind dynasties together (Rugh 2007, 82-95, 191,227).
Their khaleeji (Arab Gulf) identity, which encompasses the Arabic language (and the specific khaleeji dialect), tradition, literature and poetry, and way of life, remains important to both rulers and populations until today although national identities have started to develop and be actively fostered by the governments (Diwan 2016; cf. Erskine-Loftus, Al-Mulla, and Hightower 2016).3
The main difference between the two, however, consists in the homogeneity of their populations. Qatar, especially compared to Gulf standards, is a highly homogeneous state regarding its citizen population, and even the previous economic divisions of hadar and badu (settled townspeople and nomads) have been blurred with its economic rise and development. Meanwhile, in Bahrain, the Sunni Arab Al Khalifa dynasty rules over a majority Shia population and a non-negligible share of citizens of Iranian descent (both Sunni and Shia). Consequently, the potential and actual level of internal conflict is much higher than in Qatar (cf. AlShehabi 2016).4 Although societal conflict level influences external and internal threat perception, these dissimilarities did not impede the ingroup identification on the elite level.
Both states and especially their ruling elites, the Al Khalifa and the Al Thani. are more than sufficiently similar for the theorized ingroup to emerge. The ingroup similarity here encompasses a broader set of shared traits that goes far beyond monarchism. In terms of case selection, this is both a weakness and a strength. Overlapping similarities make it harder to connect the building of the ingroup to the political system alone; however, if, as posited by the theoretical framework, it is the perception of similarity that induces de-escalative foreign policy behavior via a solidarity-prescribing ingroup norm, the higher degree of structural similarity could lead to a stronger such perception and represent a clearer mechanism illustrated by the case.
Salience: constraints and catalysts to ingroup identification
The wave of independence of the small Gulf monarchies in 1971 boosted the number of monarchies to nine out of 19, i.e. 47%, but also somewhat lowered the salience of monarchy. Despite the wave of independence of monarchies, they were still a minority in the system: one that had not quite overcome the threat by coups and revolutions. However, because the wave of independence also led the small Gulf monarchies to share a historical fate, the decrease of monarchic salience in 1971 might not have been too pronounced. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 again changed the picture, not just because it decreased the absolute number of monarchies in the Middle East (eight out of 19, or 42%) but also because the new revolutionary republic was bent on destroying and replacing monarchism and therefore posed a major threat to the Arab monarchies. This was the last change in the proportion of different types of political systems. During the first period, the salience of monarchy was moderately high but was at times overshadowed by the identification as part of the "khaleef', the Arab part of the Persian Gulf.
Before independence, the Al Khalifa had at times laid claim to all of Qatar, but this claim has gradually shrunk with the loss of control over territory and allied tribes and has in effect ceased to exist after independence. Therefore, a divisive ideology based on a hierarchy of relations camiot be discerned for the post-independence period between Bahrain and Qatar (or the Al Khalifa and Al Thani in particular).
Bahrain and Qatar, and the small Gulf states in general, were threatened both internally (via competing ruling ideologies from Iraqi Ba'thism, Pan-Arabism, and Iranian Pan-Islamism) and externally (by military aggression by Iran and Iraq). Whereas Iraq had been a potential threat before, Iran became one only after its revolution. Over a decade later, the military threat peaked again with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The states felt threatened not only because they were much smaller and more vulnerable than Iran and Iraq but also because they were monarchies. Revolutionary ideology from both states was decidedly anti-monarchical.
While relations with the shah had mostly been good,5 and the Gulf monarchies were reluctant to recognize the new Iranian regime that promoted an anti-monar-cliic propaganda (Alkim 1989, 126; Assiri 1990, 64). This found its immediate expression in a flurry of visits between the monarchs of the different Gulf states, e.g. the president of the UAE and the king of Saudi Arabia met more than 16 times between 1979-1983 (Alkim 1989, 235, EN 173).
Revolutionary leader Khomeini had dismissed the Gulf rulers as "mini shahs”, equating them with the regime he had just overthrown (Boghardt 2006, 29) and delegitimized the monarchic system in general, even before the revolution. Already in the 1970s, he lectured that "Islam proclaims monarchy and hereditary succession wrong and invalid” (Khomeini cited in: Lafraie 2009, 67). From the other side across the Gulf, Ba'thist Iraq's ideology called for "the destruction of traditional monarchies and the end of Shaikhly rule” (Joyce 1998, 131). Iraq had supported internal radical movements against the monarchies, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Although it eventually abandoned these subversion attempts, Iran remained a threat in the 1980s and 1990s, fostering Shia activism, especially just after the Iranian revolution. The 1981 coup attempt in Bahrain stood out. Bahraini authorities implicated 73 Shiites from different Gulf Arab states for the coup attempt that was linked to Iran. As a result, except Kuwait, all the GCC states signed bilateral security with Saudi Arabia (Boghardt 2006, 53-54). It was only then that Saudi Arabia and most smaller Gulf states aligned themselves with Iraq. In the 1980s, further attacks, bombings, and assassinations in the GCC states were carried out by Iran-, Iraq-, or Syria-linked groups or by Palestinian groups, and between 1987 and 1989, 142 international terrorist attacks were connected to Iran alone (Boghardt 2006, 54-56, 93, 130).
The heightened threat from both Iran and Iraq pushed the Gulf monarchies closer together and drove the formation of the GCC in 1981. The integration of the Gulf states into a regional security complex made the necessity to settle the dispute more urgent for both parties and increased the acceptability of Saudi Arabia as a mediator (cf. Calvert and Alcock 2004).
For Bahrain and Qatar, the Gulf War in 1991 was the first time that they engaged in a major military operation - an indication of the high level of the perceived threat. Qatar played an important role in the battle for Ras al-Khafji (Allison 2012, 122; Al-Musfir 2001, 318).
A common threat to a group of states that included Bahrain and Qatar as monarchies persisted throughout the period, although its level was not static. For example, most Gulf states openly supported Iraq in its war against Iran throughout its duration: 1980-1988. Post-revolutionary Iran, on the other hand, was not uniformly seen as a threat by all Gulf states, with Oman, Dubai, and Qatar having especially good relations with its neighbor across the Gulf. In 1992, Qatar alienated Balirain and other GCC states the next month by moving closer to Iran in its signing three cooperation agreements with the republic in one month (Kostiner 2009, 135).
Social processes of ingroup identification
Once state borders and institutions had been cemented, the developing and strengthening of an ingroup with which Qatar and Bahrain identified could be discerned. Qatar renewed its claim to the islands and Zubarah after independence in 1971, when it became an international dispute between independent states
(Cordesman 1997,47). The contention dominated Qatari-Bahraini relations, especially during the peaks of tension in 1986 and 1996 and kept them from establishing official diplomatic relations on an ambassadorial level. While a significant sign of disagreement, it is not tantamount to non-recognition, because both countries interacted and even cooperated freely in international fora like the UN, the Arab League, and the GCC.
While state institutions were still relatively new and developing, the independence in an era of virtual global monopoly of nation-states meant cementing the individual states’ identity and security. The new states were attributed legitimacy as independent sovereign entities where the norms of territorial integrity and national sovereignty reigned over dynastic claims over group allegiance. While this marked the end of the transformation of the dispute over the islands and Zubarah from a dynastic rivalry into a territorial dispute, it did not spell its disappearance.
Regardless of the level of tensions, the personalization of bonds remained. Direct interaction never stopped, and the lack of ambassadorial representation did not preclude frequent high-level visits. To the contrary, after each severe incident (and especially the 1986 confrontation), a series of tripartite meetings with the conflict parties and Saudi Arabia ensued. The mediation resulted in compromise to put the case to the ICJ if Saudi mediation failed (Wiegand 2012, 85).
Informal meetings, provided by intra-monarchic protocol, were also important occasions for interaction and crisis-diffusion or prevention, an example being the visit of Muhammad bin Mubarak Al Khalifa, the foreign minister of Bahrain, to Qatar to pay condolences for the death of the Qatari minister of commerce, Nasir bin Khalid Al Thani, in 1986, shortly after the altercation over Fasht al-Dibal. GCC officials pushed to diffuse the crisis before the coming GCC heads of state meeting in the UAE in November that year (Consultations in progress on meeting of tripartite committee 1986). Apart from tripartite meetings and bilateral negotiations, the regular meetings of the GCC were natural fora for debate and negotiation.
Close contact was both enabled by and contributed to a similar worldview. Bahrain and Qatar exhibit many of the features associated with Ayubi’s concept of “clannish democracy” (dimuqratiyya ‘asha’iriyya) that he identified in Arab monarchies, for him a formula similar to consociationalism that cements elite solidarity at the top and aims at the erection of a modem state within a traditional society (Ayubi 1995, 245).
This joint conception is due to a shared traditional socialization in similar societies, often combined with British education. Their common outlook and common worldview were also decisively shaped by the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and by prior republican subversion that helped forge a shared view of history. After having reconciled with the shah once he had abandoned his claim to Bahrain, the Gulf monarchies distinguished themselves by forging a tight bond with the Persian monarchy. This contributed to their markedly tepid reaction to the Iranian seizure of islands claimed by two emirates of the UAE - so much that Iraq and
When monarchies collide 99 other republics protested the weakness of the reaction and condemned them for it (Chubin and Tripp 2014, 44).
Regardless of the level of conflict, the two ruling families were continually eager to appeal to their shared traits and close ties and thus affirm and reaffirm their commonality. They perceived threats in a similar way and appealed to shared links and alliances and repeatedly emphasized the need for a “brotherly solution” between “sisterly countries”, while de-emphasizing differences. This did not mean, however, that distrust had been eliminated between them but rather that there was no significant “othering” in that period.6
At the GCC summit in Doha in December 1990, the two sides agreed to withdraw the ICJ case "in the event of reaching a brotherly solution acceptable to both parties” (cited in: Al-Arayed 2003, 331) through continued bilateral negotiations and mediations. This was despite their disagreement on the best course of action to solve the dispute: Bahrain preferred arbitration by Saudi Arabia, while Qatar called for adjudication by the ICJ. This was accompanied by the compromise reached under the Saudi aegis, namely to attempt mediation and jointly refer the matter to the ICJ if this approach failed, pursued since the 1986 clash (Wiegand 2012, 85).
The two neighbors' shared historical trajectory led to a preference for Western alliance. This led them to frame threats in similar ways to each other and set them apart from non-monarchies where that link was broken by the revolutionary ideology of anti-imperialism. Their markedly different understanding of regional relations and readings of history from revolutionary republics regularly comes up in confrontations, e.g. with post-revolutionary Iran, a major political ideologue. Ideological republics that were antagonists of the shah, like Syria and Libya, allied with the Islamic Republic because both shared its anti-Western outlook.
Despite the density and strength of relationships between the Al Thani and Al Khalifa elites, there was still a significant amount of mutual distrust up to the 1990s. Diplomatic cables relay a July 1978 report by then-Commandant of Police Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani.7 who claimed that his intelligence unit tried to warn Bahraini authorities about an impending attack on a Bahraini journalist, but they did not believe him, because they thought Qatar was trying to “sow discontent”. Hamad bin Jassim claimed that the Bahrainis changed their minds after the attack, fostering bilateral cooperation (Cable: Qatari Police Chief on Qatar Police 1978).
Foreign policy restraint and de-escalation in periods of crisis
The strengthening of bilateral ties inside the club of Gulf monarchies helped contain the conflict and prevent escalation into a war or warlike clash, although a major confrontation happened in 1986 - which was, however, quickly resolved.
The period until 1995 was marked by multiple altercations (most notably in 1978,1982,1986, and 1991) and provocations by both sides. Accusations of lacking commitment to conflict resolution surfaced from time to time (Lawson 1989, 133). Still, the diplomatic avenue was the most important for both countries,
which shared the desire to settle the dispute by mediation. The level of a militarized conflict (although far from a war) was reached only once, in 1986, which did not result in any casualties and was quickly diffused by the decision makers. Despite the importance of the issue, the 1986 events mark the absolute height of the strife, and no militarized altercation was recorded at any other time.
In April 1978, Bahraini warships conducted maneuvers close to the Hawar Islands, prompting Qatari authorities to detain Bahraini fishers in the area. In response, Bahrain held military exercises in the proximity. In 1982, Bahrain christened one of its new frigates “Hawar”, to which Qatar formally protested, and Qatar accused Bahrain of navy exercises in Qatari waters. Both countries had used almost any non-coercive foreign policy tool available. Bahrain attempted mainly to create facts on the ground by building on the islands and developing tourism, while Qatar tried to change the status quo with more radical solutions (Lawson 1989, 133; cf. Wiegand 2012, 82-83).
At the height of the tensions, in 1986, this led to a confrontation by Qatar. Khalaf describes the "armed” clash between the two countries:
The two mini-states expelled each other’s citizens, cut all communications links with each other, including flights by jointly-owned Gulf Air, and blasted each other in their respective newspapers, radio and television. Ironically, one of the charges hurled between them was abuse of human rights. Both states put their military on maximum alert and "discovered” espionage networks aiding the enemy. On April 26, 1986, four Qatari air force helicopters landed on the uninhabited island of Fasht al-Dabal and arrested all 29 foreign workers surveying the area for a Dutch construction company contracted by Bahrain to build a coast guard base. The bizarre incident underlines the explosive nature of these disputes and the temptation to settle them by force. Bahrain's recent acquisition of new weapons systems may portend another, more serious round of hostilities.
The Bahrainis had been constructing a small base there and were transforming the island into a coast guard station. After the incident, they claimed the workers were building a GCC facility in agreement with a prior arrangement. Both parties called military alerts and reinforced their positions, Bahrain on Hawar and Qatar on the reef of Fasht al-Dibal, which formed part of the Hawar Islands (Cordesman 1997, 47).
In addition, Qatari helicopters attacked a Bahrain-based tugboat in the proximity with machine guns, to coerce it into leaving. Bahrain issued severe warnings and deployed its troops to the islands but did not attack or escalate in any way. During its occupation, Qatar dismantled the facilities that had been built there and began building a causeway linking the island to the Qatari mainland. Qatar justified its action by alleging Bahraini violations of a 1983 agreement (Wiegand 2012, 84). Despite the spike in the level of escalation, the situation was still far from an actual military clash. There were no casualties, and Bahrain did not reciprocate by occupying other territory; nor did they open fire on the helicopters? Regional media emphasized the irregularity of the incident. Kuwaiti media referred to the event as a "temporary lapse in relations” and an "isolated incident” ("Isolated incident" occurs between Bahrain, Qatar 1986).
The 1986 incident was followed by a long period of tension (Zahlan 2002, 25), including an incident in June 1991, when the Qatari navy entered waters off Hawar Islands and Bahrain reacted by sending fighters into Qatari airspace. GCC mediation ended the spat and sent an observation team to the area, but tensions resumed after the First Gulf War (Cordesman 1997, 47). Nonetheless, despite the Qatari provocation, neither "another, more serious round of hostilities” nor "the temptation to settle them by force”, as anticipated by Khalaf (1987), materialized.
Instead, it was evidently overcome by a desire to de-escalate. Both sides showed remarkable restraint, for the most part refraining from delegitimizing the other and engaging in rhetorical escalation. Although initial media reaction was alarmist and allegations of espionage were levied, there is little evidence of actual subversive acts of policies, indicating that 1986 formed an aberration in other-wise-restrained relations rather than the tip of an iceberg of hostility.
Following the clashes, Qatari official statements were firm but devoid of aggression or delegitimizing messages toward the counterpart. Instead, they emphasized the necessity to restore the perceived status quo ante instead of attempting to retaliate by force, as was the norm in many other conflicts in the Middle East:
concerning the violation, the government of Qatar has been compelled to take action to stop the land reclamation and construction which Bahrain has carried out at Fasht al-Dibal, an action designed to restore the situation to what it was previously, which is what the principles of mediation and the rulings of the GCC Ministerial Council’s resolution were directed at and to which Qatar had totally committed itself.
(cited in: Wiegand 2012, 84)
After an agreement had been reached in May 1986, the workers were released. The following month, Qatar ended its occupation, and Bahrain agreed to destroy the facilities it had built on the island (Cordesman 1997, 47). Qatar stated regret for the disagreement. Both sides recognized that external mediation was necessary and in 1987 agreed to put the case jointly before the ICJ according to principles proposed by Saudi Arabia in 1983 (Wiegand 2012, 84).
Nonetheless, the 1986 altercations were serious enough that besides the (unilateral) Qatari decision to intervene with force, other measures to weaken the opponent's position were employed. Despite the official claims of the governments to have uncovered espionage networks by the other in both countries (Khalaf 1987), which would constitute subversion, the evidence for it was rather slim. Even if these networks existed, their main task seemed to be the collection of information, but not destabilizing the regime or even the individual rulers of Qatar and Bahrain (cf. Young 1997).
After the immediate tensions had been dissolved, the dispute continued. Apart from the question whether Zubarah should be included in possible settlement, the most important bone of contention was identifying an acceptable mediator. Bahrain insisted that it be a regional solution under the leadership of Saudi Arabia. Qatar was adamant that the ICJ would be a more objective and therefore acceptable mediator and arbitrator. In July 1991, Qatar unilaterally instituted proceedings to let the ICJ decide whether it had jurisdiction. Bahrain refused the jurisdiction of the court and insisted that they both agree to coordinate before involving the ICJ, which Qatar disrespected by its unilateral submission (Cordesman 1997, 47-48; Wiegand 2012, 85).
At the December 1990 summit of the GCC in Doha, Qatar brought up the dispute even before discussing the topical Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that had just taken place (cf. Al-Arayed 2003, 330). This indicated the seriousness of the issue, at least for Qatar, which was determined to go to great lengths to get the islands -although they mostly excluded violent measures. Indeed, in a confidential conversation with US diplomats, the advisor of Qatari Emir Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani asserted in 1976 that if it were territory that the Bahrainis wanted. Qatar would build them "an artificial island to replace” Hawar and cover the cost for a causeway and many more benefits. In the same conversation, he relayed in flowery terms how he tried to impress on the mediating Saudi king. Khalid, and on Prince Saud that for Qatar it was "no rug merchanting operation but a serious matter” (Qatar-Bahrain Relations 1976). While this indicates the importance of the matter, it also clearly shows a great degree of willingness to compromise.
Following Qatar's unilateral submission of the case to the ICJ in July 1991, the atmosphere between Bahrain and Qatar grew more tense. In 1995, following an exchange of documents in 1993 and 1994, the ICJ ruled that it did have jurisdiction of the Hawar Islands dispute. As before, Bahrain rejected the court’s involvement (Cordesman 1997, 48). In February 1995, a senior Bahraini government official reacted by dramatically proclaiming that in case of an ICJ ruling favorable for Qatar, features in question would be relinquished to the neighbor “over our dead bodies” (Schofield 2001, 219).
Although the islands and Zubarah were highly important to Bahrain and to Qatar, this is the most confrontational public statement issued in the whole dispute. At no point did the Bahraini or Qatari officials ever question the legitimacy or equality of their neighboring dynasty, only its stance on the territorial dispute. To the contrary, the dispute was more often than not deliberately downplayed while insisting on cooperation. Despite the importance of the issue for both sides, the issue was rarely couched in existential terms but was mostly presented as a clearly delimitated disagreement. The rhetorical escalation seemed to be as contained as the military one.
In addition, there were clear alliance ties between the two countries. Although there was no formal bilateral security alliance, the clearest and strongest sign of alignment and cooperation between Bahrain and Qatar was institutionalized in the Gulf Cooperation Council, the intragovernmental organization that unites all Arab Gulf monarchies. The founding of the council revealed a deepened shared identity that was vividly formulated in the communiqué of the pre-meeting by the organization's foreign minister in Taif on February 4, 1981, regarding the reasons for its establishment:
out of consideration of their special relations and joint characteristics stemming from their joint creed, similarity’ of regimes, unity of heritage, similarity of their political, social and demographic structure, and their cultural and historical affiliation.
(cited in: Kechichian 2001, 281, emphasis added)
Since at least its second summit, the GCC was the forum where formal cooperation and defense arrangements were discussed and concluded rather than in bilateral. This is despite a lack of regional integration, obligations and interdependences via the GCC could not be easily reversed or abandoned as in ad hoc alliances, which illustrates the continually close ties of the states.
The alliance included other costly responsibilities and led to strong solidarity in times of need. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Bahrain and Qatar even shared military commitments when defending fellow monarchy and GCC member Kuwait, which marked the first major military engagement for either of them (Allison 2012, 122).
These alliances broadly followed the line of ingroup identity. During the escalation in 1986, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati offered Qatar support (Bahrain: Further Reportage 1986). However, Qatar chose to cooperate with Bahrain (and Saudi Arabia) to diffuse the bilateral tensions over the furtherance of its territorial interests by accepting the Iranian republic’s offer.
The two states met the conditions for ingroup identification, being highly similar in all measured dimensions on many different levels. State building and the cementing of state borders enabled the acceptance of each other as separate but equal entities.
Group identification was catalyzed by a moderately high salience of monarchy. The salience was driven by the presence of a common threat by the anti-monar-chic republics of Iraq and Iran (after 1979). In addition, there was no divisive hierarchic ideology between the two Gulf monarchies that could have obstructed ingroup identification. However, the salience was somewhat lowered because of the rise in the overall share of monarchies thanks to the simultaneous independence of the small Gulf monarchies. Although the wave of new independent monarchies in 1971 might have lessened monarchic salience, it also bound them together, having experienced similar historical trajectories and facing similar threats as khaleeji, Arab Gulf monarchies. Although they did not establish formal diplomatic relations, they cooperated on a personalized bilateral level as well as in international fora, especially the GCC. Right from the beginning, frequent bilateral visits and mediation meetings under Saudi aegis, as well as public and private proclamations, emphasized the similarity and fraternity of the polities and rulers. Since 1981, the monarchy-only forum of the GCC indicates a quickly developing common bond. This process was accompanied by constant affirmations of similarity and fraternity.
Amid the intensive ingroup dynamics, a militarized altercation occurred only once. However, the April 1986 clash at the height of tensions was quickly diffused without casualties by a strong restraint from both sides, showing their preference for cooperation over conflict. Instead of direct retaliation, Bahrain reacted with restraint, thereby possibly precluding a crisis slide. Qatar quickly agreed to a compromise solution, issued statements of regret for past provocations and called for peaceful and diplomatic solutions. Although Qatar cooperated with Iran more than most other GCC members, it did not exploit the possibility of allying with a larger power against its "brother” and refrained from using Bahraini internal divisions to undermine the ruling family. Both countries preferred a compromise solution that bridged two seemingly incompatible demands - local mediation as preferred by Bahrain and international arbitration as preferred by Qatar. Both countries continuously cooperated and allied on a large scale, especially via the GCC. They also committed resources to the support of a fellow Gulf monarchy through their military cooperation during the Gulf War in 1991.