The presence of officers from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) at the 2022 Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX), held on March 21-23, garnered extensive media attention. This is especially in light of the fact that the U.S. administration is considering revoking the U.S. designation of the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, as part of efforts to renew the nuclear deal (the JCPOA) with Iran. According to Reuters, the Iranian stand at the exhibition was organized by Iran's Defense Ministry, and the large Iranian delegation to the exhibition included IRGC commanders. The stand displayed models of Iranian missiles and areal defense systems, and the Chief of Staff of Qatar's Armed Forces, Salem bin Hamad bin 'Aqil Al-Nabit, reportedly visited it and was given a tour of the exhibits.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that "we are deeply disappointed and troubled" by the presence of IRGC officers at the show, when "Iran that is biggest threat to maritime stability in the Gulf region." A Qatari official stated in response that Qatar had not invited the IRGC officers to the show and that the Iranian stand was managed by the Iranian Defense Ministry. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh rejected the American criticism, saying: "Iran, like any other country, has the right, based on its national decision, to upgrade its defense capabilities or to exhibit them to anyone, especially to friendly countries and to its neighbors… As one of the central pillars of Iran's armed forces, the IRGC plays a vital role in improving Iran's defense capabilities, and it obviously takes an active role in displaying these achievements."
The presence of the IRGC officers in the Doha show sparked criticism from the UAE. The London-based Emirati daily Al-Arab accused Qatar of trying to present the IRGC as "an organized force that represents the [Iranian] state and thereby pave the way to its removal from the [U.S.] terror list."
Scathing criticism against Qatar was also voiced by the head of the UAE Journalists Association, Muhammad Yousuf. In a March 28 article in the Emirati Al-Bayan daily, he scoffed at the Qatari claim that it had not invited the IRGC representatives to the show, and wondered whether they had "entered Qatar as fruit and vegetable vendors, or perhaps were smuggled there in ships or fell from the sky."
The Iranian stand at DIMDEX (Source: Rueters.com, March 24, 2022)
The following are translated excerpts from Yousuf's article:
"The U.S. administration was amazed to find IRGC officers at the Maritime Defense Exhibition in Doha… The IRGC, which is included on the terror list because it is the primary reason for instability in the Gulf and the region at large, is present in Doha, the capital of Qatar, America's strategic ally outside NATO. [And this at a time] when there is a false media halo around those who target Gulf cities with missiles and drones [i.e., the Iran-backed Houthis] and try to harm the oil facilities of the world's greatest oil producer, namely our sister Saudi Arabia, the Land of the Two Holy Places.
"Saudi Arabia has enough weapons, power and support to destroy the Houthis, as well as the IRGC experts and the Hizbullah [operatives] who are present in Sanaa and in other areas under Houthi control, but its concern for the Yemeni people keeps it from doing so and causes it to sustain the damage [in silence].
"The IRGC are the ones who seize ships and smuggle weapons into Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and to Hamas. They are the ones who fire missiles, boobytrap cars and assassinate national leaders in those countries and elsewhere. Their state [i.e., Iran] is trying to have [the IRGC] – as well as its commanders, who do not hesitate to voice threats against [Iran's] neighbors on a daily basis – removed from the boycott and sanctions lists as part of the renewal of the deal [with the U.S. and the West]… Yet an official Washington spokesman [Ned Price] says his country is amazed by the participation of IRGC officers in a Doha show, compelling Qatar to clarify that it did not invite the IRGC [to attend]. This means that these officers must have entered Qatar as fruit and vegetable vendors, or perhaps were smuggled there in ships or fell from the sky."