Qatar is unexpectedly under siege from its neighbours. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, supported by Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, the five Arab states have cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, severed land, air and sea travel and are expelling Qatari citizens who have 48 hours to depart.
The Saudis and their allies are demanding, in effect, that Qatar end its independent foreign policy and tame or close down its television station, Al Jazeera. They claim that Qatar is complicit with Iran in supporting terrorism, though Qatar is one of the loose coalition of Sunni states supporting forces hostile to Iran in Syria and Yemen.
One pro-Saudi lobbyist in the US even threatens regime change in Qatar, tweeting to its Emir: “I would like to remind you that [elected Egyptian President] Mohammed Morsi did exactly the same [as you] and was then toppled and imprisoned.”
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have long been rivals and, despite Qatar’s small size, its great wealth and vast gas reserves have given it great influence. It backed the Arab Spring with its wealth and media outlets, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza.
Three years ago in 2014 there was a similar but less serious confrontation between Qatar and its neighbours, who accused it of interference in their internal affairs. Since then Qatar has been much more compliant in not confronting or pursuing radically different policies from those of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
What has changed in the Gulf to precipitate a crisis now? The answer is that the Trump wrecking ball passed through the region last month and the US President’s unreserved backing for Saudi Arabia, and in particularly for deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has disturbed the regional balance of forces. It has already emboldened the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain to crush the last Shia resistance to its dominance, killing five protesters in one village and closing down the only remaining independent newspaper.
Much more seriously, Mr Trump’s unqualified support for the Sunni monarchies and autocrats during his two-day visit to Riyadh emboldened the kingdom to start a second and, it hopes, final round in its confrontation with Qatar. Mr Trump may not have intended to touch off this latest crisis when he aggressively and inaccurately demonised Iran and by implication the Shia as the source of all terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa. But his words were interpreted by the Saudis as enabling them to move against Qatar though it is home to a major US base.
It will be difficult for Qatar to withstand what amounts to a form of siege. Under Mr Trump, the degree of protection it can expect from the US is uncertain and Prince Mohammed bin Salman, eager to secure his own path to the Saudi throne, cannot afford a failure. He may even want to go the limit and eliminate Qatar as an independent state, the first time this has happened in the Gulf since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The diplomatic crisis in Qatar saw a new development Wednesday as Turkey’s parliament passed legislation permitting the deployment of troops to a Turkish military base in Qatar. The legislation was drafted prior to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain severing ties with Qatar, but indicates that Turkey is willing to help the Gulf Arab country.
The bill was supported by both the governing AK party and the nationalist opposition.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated Tuesday that “Turkey will continue and will develop our ties with Qatar,” adding that “we do not think the sanctions against Qatar are good.” Erdogan insisted Turkey would have intervened if the sanctions of terrorist support were proved, but questioned the effectiveness of measures already taken by his Arab neighbors in isolating the small emirate. Reports of Qatar’s ongoing support for regional Islamist groups, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, and Shiite-ruled Iran, led to uneasy relations with many neighboring nations. Weekly Standard
Well, pilgrims you can add Mauretania the list of those following Saudi Arabia’s lead in this. They must be on “the dole” from Riyadh.
Qatar is a strange little place. It is really a sandbar sticking out into the Gulf. Qatar possesses large gas reserves but does anyone think that desire to possess these reserves motivates Saudi Arabia? Qatar is the only Wahhabi country other than Saudi Arabia itself. It exists because imperial Britain wanted to hold a non-Saudi piece of Wahhabi dominated “soil” in the Gulf region. Qatar realizes the weakness of its position vis a vis Saudi Arabia. The emirate is in fact if not in appearance an absolute dictatorship. I was present at a meeting at the ruler’s palace in Doha in which the then emir laughed and told the group I was with that if the West wanted democracy he would create things for them to look at. He would have a parliament. He would have a “free” press (Al-Jazeera?). He said that there had been a subversive conspiracy attempting a coup recently and that he had a number of the plotters in prison. What should I do with them he asked this group of millionaires and corporate representative. I do not wish to upset “The West” too much. The response from the leader of the group was that the prisoners should receive due process. The emir then changed the subject.
Existing in such a milieu, Qatar’s rulers have sought to “fireproof” themselves against a future in which Saudi Arabia decides that the Qatari mini-state’s existence is unnecessary.
1. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly they have given the US the use of land including the area of the former British air base at al-udeid and enough space to position USCENTCOM’s forward headquarters in theater. These facilities are very important to the US. The air war in the ME is run from al-udeid air base, not the flying necessarily, but just about all the staff functions for command and control. DJT does not seem to grasp the importance of al-udeid to the US air war.
2. The “Al-Jazeera network” is a great irritant to the autocratic states of the Arab World. It has always been such and it has been bitched about to me by rich and otherwise powerful Arabs from its creation. It is clearly under the protection of the house al-thani (the rulers of this little country). As I have said, this princely house is not IMO in any way democratic. Al-Jazeera is part of the Potemkin Village of democracy that is presented to the West by the Qatari state, but that image is helpful to them.
3. Qatar maintains a certain ambiguity with regard to its relations with Iran. It has recently chosen to emphasize that ambiguity, probably IMO in response to DJT’s acceptance of his role as the mukhtar of America.
And now, in demonstration of Sultan Erdogan’s ambition to one day be thought Commander of the Faithful, the Turkish parliament has provided the legal basis for Turkey to intervene militarily and politically in settlement of the present difficulty involving Saudi Arabia, its Arab allies and mukhtar Trump on the one hand with Qatar and Turkey (possibly Iran?) on the other.
Can one doubt that Turkish support for the al-thani will achieve great influence in Qatar? If so, what will be Turkey’s level of influence over US use of al-udeid AFB? Without the C&C facilities at that base we would essentially be out of business in the air war. And then there is Incirlik AFB …
What on earth does DJT think he is doing by siding with SA against Qatar? pl
Great. Just what we need. Our self-styled key ally in the so-called war on terror – Saudi Arabia – just closed the airspace, land and sea borders with our other ally, Qatar, accusing it of supporting Isis. What’s that about?
Well, like almost everything in the region, it is about the strategic duplicity of the West, exacerbated by the childlike idiocy of the US president. Does it matter for Brits – other than those stuck at airports in the Gulf, or policy wonks obsessed with Middle Eastern conflicts?
It matters on every street in Britain.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf monarchies, organised in the so called Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), have a long history of backing the spread of Sunni Islamist ideology outside the region. Not just in Britain, but, for example, even in places such as rural Nigeria, where I’ve seen Gulf oil money used to incentivise Christians to convert, fuelling the religious conflict there.
But the Qataris have always punched above their weight in regional affairs, and displayed a more intelligent grasp on the strategic, demographic and cultural changes sweeping the Arab world.
It was the Qataris who set up Al Jazeera, as a counterweight to the reactionary state media across the middle east, and to challenge the US media’s right to set the global narrative about the Islamic world.
Qatar supported the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and still supports and shelters the leaders of the Hamas government in Gaza. In Syria, Qatar spent up to $3bn (£2.3bn) in the first two years of the civil war bankrolling the rebels – allegedly including the al-Qaida-linked group al-Nusra Front.
The issue torturing the Saudi monarchy is Iran. Obama made peace with Iran in 2015, in the face of Saudi and Israeli opposition. Qatar is diplomatically closer to Iran. It has also supported (outside Qatar) the spread of political Islam – that is, of parties prepared to operate within nominally democratic institutions.
The Saudis’ strategic aim, by contrast, is to end the peace deal with Iran and to stifle the emergence of political Islam full stop.
Last month, Donald Trump took himself to Riyadh to participate in a sword dance and glad hand the Saudi royals. And that is where the trouble escalated.
Qatar’s ruler had been reported by his own state media as warning against the escalating confrontation with Iran: “Iran represents a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored and it is unwise to face up against it,” said a TV tickertape quoting the Emir.
But Trump’s visit poured ethanol on to the simmering conflict. Few observers see today’s move as anything other than the Saudis acting with state department backing. One Iranian official tweeted the spat was “the prelimary result of the sword dance”.
Saudi Arabia is meanwhile prosecuting a war on Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, using more than £3bn worth of British kit sold to it since the bombing campaign began. In return, it has lavished gifts on Theresa May’s ministers: Philip Hammond got a watch worth £1,950 when he visited in 2015. In turn, Tory advisers are picking up lucrative consultancy work with the Saudi government.
The problem remains Saudi culpability – past and present – for funding islamist terrorism. After September 11, the Saudi monarchy did begin to crack down on islamist terrorism domestically, criminalising terrorist finance. But, as a US cable released by Wikileaks shows, even as late as 2009, that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.
Since the coronation of King Salman in January 2015, there has been a programme of economic modernisation and political reforms the monarchy has tried to sell as liberalisation.
However, Salman has also escalated the Yemen war and escalated tensions with Iran – most notably by executing a prominent Shia cleric and 46 other opponents last year.
In Britain, when the Lib Dems in the Coalition supported airstrikes against Isis, the price they extracted was for Cameron to launch an inquiry into foreign funding of terrorism. Eighteen months on, it remains suppressed. As with the infamous Serious Fraud Office investigation into corruption at BAE, it is being buried because it would expose the past misdemeanours of the the Saudis.
We do not know why Britain has suddenly become the target for a jihadi terror surge: five foiled attempts and three gruesomely successful ones in 70 days.
One possible explanation is that, with the increased tempo of fighting in Mosul and towards Raqqa, it is becoming clear to the thousands of jihadi fantasists sitting in bedrooms across Europe, that their “caliphate” will soon be over.
If so, the question arises: a) what will replace it on the ground and b) how to deal with the survivors as they fan out to do damage here?
In both cases, it is vital that the Gulf monarchies funding the Syrian resistance are on board with the solution. And, as of today, two of the key players are waging economic war and a bitter rhetorical fight with each other.
As for the wider world, it is Iran that emerges as the tactical victor in today’s spat. Trump flew to Riyadh and the result was air transport chaos across the Gulf. Iran had an election and the moderates won.
But there is good news. If Jeremy Corbyn is prime minister on Friday, Britain’s game of thrones in the Gulf will end. The foreign policy he outlined at Chatham House represents a complete break with the appeasement of terror-funding Saudi autocrats. The strategic defence review he has promised would unlikely keep funding the Royal Navy base in Bahrain.
Britain cannot solve the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf. But it can stop making it worse. Last December, Boris Johnson inadvertantly had a go. He named the Yemen conflict as a proxy war; accusing both the Saudis and Iran of “puppeteering”. He was quickly slapped down.
Only a Labour government will stop appeasing the Saudi monarchy and reset the relationship to match Britain’s strategic interest – not the interest of Britain’s arms dealers and PR consultants.
ANKARA Turkey’s parliament on Wednesday approved a draft bill allowing its troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar, an apparent move to support the Gulf Arab country when it faces diplomatic and trade isolation from some of the biggest Middle Eastern powers.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar and closed their airspace to commercial flights on Monday, charging it with financing militant groups. Qatar denies the accusations.
The bill, drafted before the rift, passed with 240 votes in favor, largely with support from the ruling AK Party and nationalist opposition MHP.
DOHA Qatar vowed on Thursday to ride out the isolation imposed on it by fellow Arab states over its alleged support for terrorism and said it would not compromise its sovereignty over foreign policy to resolve the region’s biggest diplomatic crisis in years.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed relations with the small Gulf Arab state on Monday, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and their arch-adversary Iran – charges Qatar calls baseless.
Several other countries later followed suit.
Would-be mediators including U.S. President Donald Trump and Kuwait’s ruling emir have struggled to ease a crisis that Qataris say has led to a blockade of their nation.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Qatar had not yet been presented with a list of demands by countries that cut off diplomatic and transport ties, but insisted the matter be solved peacefully.
“We have been isolated because we are successful and progressive. We are a platform for peace,” he told reporters in Doha in a defiant tone.
“We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy,” he said, warning that the dispute threatened the stability of the region.
Saudi Arabia’s closure of Qatar’s only land border sparked fears of major price hikes and food shortages for its population of 2.7 million people, with long queues forming as some supermarkets began running out of stock.
With supply chains disrupted and anxiety mounting about deepening economic turbulence, banks and firms in Gulf Arab states were trying to keep business links to Qatar open and avoid a costly firesale of assets.
“We’re not worried about a food shortage, we’re fine. We can live forever like this, we are well prepared,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
He said Iran was ready to help with securing food supplies in the emirate, an investment powerhouse and supplier of natural gas to world markets but tiny and reliant on imports.
Turkey has meanwhile brought forward a planned troop deployment to Qatar and pledged to provide food and water supplies to its Arab ally, which hosts a Turkish military base.
A senior UAE official accused Qatar of escalating the row by seeking help from Turkey and Iran.
“The request for political protection from two non-Arab countries and military protection from one of them could be a new tragic and comic chapter,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, wrote on Twitter.
MEDIATION EFFORTS FALTER
Trump initially took sides with the Saudi-led group before apparently being nudged into a more even-handed approach when U.S. defense officials renewed praise of Doha, mindful of the major U.S. military base hosted by Qatar that serves, in part, as a launchpad for strikes on Islamic State insurgents.
In his second intervention in as many days, Trump urged action against terrorism in a call with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on Wednesday and offered help in resolving the crisis, including through a meeting at the White House.
But a Qatari official said on Thursday the emir would not be accepting the invitation.
“The emir has no plans to leave Qatar while the country is under a blockade,” the official told Reuters.
The White House said Trump was continuing to talk with all partners. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was also ready to support diplomatic efforts “if desired by all parties,” his spokesman said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who has said Gulf states could resolve the dispute among themselves without outside help, traveled to Muscat on Thursday to meet his Omani counterpart.
But there have been few signs of progress as officials from Qatar and its Arab neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) pursue shuttle diplomacy.
“The feeling here is that it is going to take a while to fix. It is more about preventing things from getting worse,” said one diplomat in Kuwait, whose leader was in both the UAE and Qatar on Wednesday for consultations.
“IT IS A BLOCKADE!”
The UAE’s national postal group suspended services to Qatar and the UAE aviation authority said it had closed air space for traffic to and from Doha.
The Abu Dhabi Petroleum Ports Authority also reimposed a ban on oil tankers linked to Qatar calling at ports in the UAE, reversing a decision to ease restrictions and potentially creating a logjam of crude cargoes.
“It is a blockade! Like that of Berlin. A declaration of war. A political, economic and social aggression,” a Qatari diplomat said. “We need the world to condemn the aggressors.”
Authorities tried to calm nerves on Wednesday, releasing a video showing a shop with shelves brimming with food and reassuring Qataris – the wealthiest people in the world per capita – that their quality of life would not be hit.
The International Monetary Fund said it was too early to assess the economic impact. But in a sign of the damage, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Qatar’s debt on Wednesday as its riyal currency fell to an 11-year low.
AL JAZEERA CAUGHT IN ROW
Qatar has backed Islamist movements but strongly denies supporting terrorism. It provides a haven to anti-Western groups like the Afghan Taliban, Palestinian Hamas and Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front but says it does not accept its neighbors’ view that any group with an Islamist background is terrorist.
Egypt on Thursday called for the United Nations Security Council to launch an investigation into accusations, denied by Qatar, that it paid a ransom of up to $1 billion to “a terrorist group active in Iraq” to release kidnapped members of its royal family.
In an interview with BBC radio, UAE Ambassador to Russia Omar Saif Ghobash said Qatar had to choose between supporting extremism or supporting its neighbors.
“Qatar needs to decide: Do you want to be in the pocket of Turkey, Iran and Islamic extremists? They need to make a decision; they can’t have it both ways,” he said.
The Saudi newspaper al Watan published what it called a list of eight “extremist organizations” seen as working to destabilize the region from Qatar, including Qatar’s Al Jazeera news channel, that were targeted by Gulf Arab states.
State-funded Al Jazeera’s acting director general, Mostefa Souag, dismissed accusations that its reportage is pro-Islamist and amounts to meddling in the affairs of other Arab states. “We don’t interfere in anybody’s business, we just report,” he told Reuters at Al Jazeera’s Doha headquarters.
A company source later said the network was combating a large-scale cyber attack but remained operational, and Qatar’s official state TV said it had shut down its website temporarily after facing hacking attempts.
Qatar said last month its state news agency had been hacked and false statements attributed to its ruler posted, helping ignite this week’s rift with other Arab states.
DOHA, June 7 Qatar is talking to Iran and Turkey about securing food and water supplies to stave off possible shortages two days after its biggest suppliers, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, cut trade and diplomatic ties, a government official said on Wednesday.
“We are in talks with Turkey and Iran and other countries,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, adding that the supplies would be brought in through Qatar Airways cargo flights.
The official said there were enough grain supplies in the market in Qatar to last four weeks and that the government also had large strategic food reserves in Doha.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar and closed their airspace to commercial flights on Monday, charging it with financing militant groups. Qatar vehemently denies the accustations.
It is the worst split between powerful Arab states in decades.
The moves isolating Qatar are disrupting trade in commodities from crude oil to metals and food, and deepening fears of a possible jolt to the global gas market, where the tiny Gulf state is a major player.
Food imports are affected as Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, stranding thousands of trucks carrying supplies.
Qatar, a desert country heavily dependent on food imports to feed its mostly foreign population of 2.6 million, has assured residents it has taken measures to assure that normal life continues.
The Ministry of Economy and Commerce released a video on Tuesday that showed supermarket shelves stocked with food and other goods after Qataris crowded into stores on Monday to stock up fearing shortages.
An Indian worker in one Doha supermarket who declined to give his name told Reuters TV on Tuesday: “I’ve come today and I am feeling that shortage of fresh chicken, which we eat quite often. Fresh milk is another thing that I feel in shortage”.
Although it is located in a volatile region of the world, its huge foreign currency reserves and comparatively small population mean arranging adequate new sources of food imports in an emergency is a possibility.
Turkey is a key ally of Qatar and is setting up a military base in the country which also hosts the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East.
Iran shares access with Qatar to the world’s biggest natural gas field.
Sources said the UAE and Saudi Arabia have already cut exports of white sugar to Qatar. Consumption is traditionally higher during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is currently being observed.
But Qatar’s ports and airports remained open to trade on Wednesday with countries not taking part in the Saudi-led boycott, a government official said.
“We have no problem with food supplies,” Qatar’s foreign minister told CNN on Tuesday. “We have strategic reserves in place since 2014, we don’t see that life will be affected.”