The world is still shocked, confused and clueless as to how to respond over the recent Gulf crisis. The Policy Times and Maeeshat have done extensive research to find out that the entire Gulf crisis is nothing but a profitable business proposition of the United States. If you think that the Saudi-Qatar rift is due to terror funding, Iran or Muslim Brotherhood, you are grossly mistaken and misreading the geopolitics of Middle East. In May when Trump made his historic visit to Saudi Arabia, he concluded a defence deal worth $110 billion dollar. In a few weeks after his visit, Saudi announced suspending diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5. In a few days after the Saudi blockade, US concluded another defence deal with Qatar worth $12 billion. All in all, US remains the biggest beneficiary of the rift.
Until the Saudi-Qatar rift broke out in public recently, the world was seeing conflicts and the entire Muslim world largely based on tensions between a Sunni Arab and a Shiite Iran. Things have changed. A few weeks after US President Donald Trump concluding his visit to Saudi Arabia, there is a new development in the Arab world in the form of crisis.
The real reason of President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia is clear now. Both Saudi and US were hand-in-glove to scapegoat Qatar which is rich and gradually becoming geo-strategically powerful to challenge Saudi! It was Monday, June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia and three of its allies – Egypt, UAE, and Bahrain officially announced to severe diplomatic ties with Qatar and suspended air, land, and sea travel. The reasons for this sudden but unsurprising move by Saudi was that Qatar has been accused of backing Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas and Iran. Since the announcement, Libya, Yemen, and the Maldives have also joined Saudi in the boycott.
Al Jazeera released comments attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on sensitive issues that escalated tension between Doha and Riyadh. The Qatari emir described Iran as an “Islamic power” and “big power in the stabilization of the region.” He also questioned the hostility of President Trump towards Tehran speaking of “tensions” between Doha and Washington, praising Hamas resistance movement as “the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” and threatening to withdraw ambassadors from a range of Middle Eastern countries.
Qatar tried to make damage control measures with Qatari government communications office claiming that hackers had broken into the QNA website and published the fake news. However, the Qatari state television’s nightly newscast had showed clips of the monarch at an official military ceremony with a scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen showing the same remarks.
Observers feel that this diplomatic crisis is going to have long term implications in the region. Qatar is dependent on its neighbours for trade and travel. Its only land route through Saudi for food import is closed now. According to Al Jazeera, Saudi is interrupting trucks carrying food on the Saudi side of the border while people in Qatar are “stockpiling perishable goods presuming further escalation of the tension.” There are speculations over ships carrying food to Doha via UAE ports if the rift continues further. As things are developing, this can be the biggest diplomatic crisis in Middle East since the Gulf War in 1991.
It is ironical that world’s biggest financier of terror, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) have punished a tiny and prosperous Gulf Kingdom of Qatar for reasons that does not have any proof which can be shown to the world. It can be argued that KSA did not do it on its own, but because of American pressure. For Donald Trump, he needed a scapegoat to show to the American populace how much action he is taking to end terrorism. The question, however, remains why did they choose Qatar?
Qatar is not only the richest nation amongst the GCC, but also one the richest in the world in GDP per capita. In the proxy war going on in Syria, Qatar has the eagerness to build a pipeline through Syria to Europe. Russia has been vehemently opposed to it as their oil market in Europe can be jeopardized as a result. Qatar was able to comprehend that Russia will leave no stone unturned to disallow their pipeline traversing through Syria. The sovereign wealth fund of Qatar agreed in investing $2.7 billion Russia’s state-run Rosneft Oil. It is also true that Qatar host, the region’s, largest US military base known as US Central Command.
The Americans were scared that this pivot can be leading to Qatar emerging as an active supporter of Russia-Iran-Syria axis. Things got worse when Qatar provided ideological and financial support to Iran. The Saudis raised their ante as well, with Qatar extending their support to Iran. The Saudi’s are already fighting a proxy war with Iran in Yemen. Any kind of support to Iran, especially from their own neighborhood, cannot be tolerated. Further, Qatar’s offshore North Field, the most important oil field of the nation, has been shared with Iran. Americans jumped into the picture with their interest bring harmed in the region, for which, Qatar is responsible. It is alleged that President Trump is obliged to keep Vladimir Putin in good humor as the latter have funded for the American President’s election campaign. Moreover, Americans also decided to stand by their stalwart ally in the region, the Saudis.
Qatar has been quite vocal in support of Iran and Muslim brotherhood and against Saudi atrocities in Yemen.
The immense wealth that Qatar accumulated has also enthused rivalry with KSA, in terms Qatar breaking free from the domination of the Saudis in the region. The annual per capita income of Qatar has been $130,000, with KSA not even coming close to it. Qatar is also the world’s largest exporter of the LNG. The growing financial and the political independence of Qatar may have concerned and frustrated the Saudis. “Qatar used to be a kind of Saudi vassal state, but it used the autonomy that its gas wealth created to carve out an independent role for itself,” said Jim Krane, energy research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, quoted by Bloomberg.
There is another subtle factor that has led to KSA cutting of ties and closing border with Qatar. It is the Qatar’s media house, Al Jazeera. It is not unknown, how much secrecy KSA maintains about their kingdom with its own people. Al Jazeera is a bold and professionally run media house comparable to BBC and CNN. The Saudi establishment’s insecurity to such a media company right at their backyard, where criticism and analysis goes on free about any country including KSA, may have added the reasons why KSA turned its back to Qatar.
It is worth mentioning here that Al Saud family is vulnerable, insecure and scared of the Arab Spring that spread through Libya, Egypt, Syria, etc. In this context, Al Jazeera was doing the necessary damage by encouraging similar spring across other countries by motivating, promoting and financing the rebel forces which is a big threat to the Al Saud family.
Interestingly, the recent rift indicates certain fundamental changes in the geopolitics of Middle East.
The United States Playing Double Game
While the Saudi, US and allies are blaming Qatar to play double game, US is actually playing a double game in the conflict. US President Donald Trump praised Saudi’s decision and indicated that the development is a result of his own recent rhetoric on counterterrorism. He twitted, “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off.” He further added, “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
On the contrast, US defence secretary Jim Mattis recently termed “the blockade against Qatar by Gulf states as a “very complex situation” and urged to find an area where common ground had to be found. He added that “I believe that Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani inherited a difficult, very tough situation, and he’s trying to turn the society in the right direction.”
Amidst this, Washington’s envoy to Doha, Dana Shell Smith tweeted on last week that she was leaving her post. She didn’t reveal any reason for the same.
Qatar is geo-strategically important for US and this will impact and seriously imperil US military operations in Middle East especially in its fight against terror. Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of the US Central Command (all military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East). Around 11,000 US military personnel are stationed in Qatar.
Israel, remains largely a beneficiary
Over the recent years, there has been growing evidence that Saudi has developed good relations with Israel especially on security issues. This is largely due to progress by Obama Administration on Iran-US civilian nuclear deal. Obama has already threatened to scrap the deal. The news of serious Israeli-Saudi cooperation first shown by The Times of London in 2013 which also indicated a deal to allow the Israelis to use Saudi airspace to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear sites. This is quite possible as Saudi Arabia and Israel share common concerns against Iran.
There is another strong evidence. Israel has always opposed arms deals with Gulf Arab states. However, when Trump visited Saudi and signed the $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, the Israeli leadership “kept quiet” and was neutral.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concerns saying isolating Qatar would make finding a peaceful end to the war in Syria more difficult. While on a tour in Norway, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, it was “absolutely imperative” to resolve the row through dialogue and to “establish a permanent mechanism for consultation, conversation and conflict resolution in our region.”
The Emir of Kuwait is also leading mediation efforts to resolve the Gulf crisis. He feared that the dispute could lead to undesirable consequences. Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah said in Kuwait’s state news agency that “No matter how difficult the efforts, I will do my best to mediate among the brothers.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been vocal against the isolation of Qatar saying it is “inhumane and against Islamic values.” He has urged Saudi Arabia to take a leading role in resolving the ongoing crisis among Gulf Arab nations.
Historically, the Al Saud family has compromised with US and Israel for its throne. It is often alleged that Saudi and Israel are hand in glove when dealing with Iran. Saudi establishment turns a blind eye towards the Israeli activity against Iran. In return, Israel secret service agency, Mossad, helps protects KSA from any kind of descent from within or outside the country. Therefore, the unofficial axis that has been developed among US-Israel-Saudi Arabia, will not be tolerating any activities of Qatar in favor of Iran. Qatar was an ally of United States, but its pro-Iran policies and infuriating Russia resulted in Americans cutting the corners with them. It also shows how risky it is to be an ally of United States, who can dump anybody at the drop of the hat to further their own interest.
Instability in Qatar could also have adverse effects for India. India is the second largest importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar, after Japan. India’s Petronet LNG, as part of a long-term deal, imports 8.5 million tones of LNG from Doha annually. Each consignment containing150,000 cubic meters of gas worth Rs 150 crore arrives on Indian shores every 72 hours. Moreover, over 650,000 Indians work in the country
It must be noted that despite having highest per capita income in the world, Qatar could not get the status of being a developed nation. President Trump has been successful in this mission, although the shortsightedness of the Saudis and other GCC nations are glaring.
In the end, The Policy Times finds that solution only lies in acting together. Arab countries should remove the US and Israel in the geo-politics of the region and Arab countries must act together for their common interests. Saudi must act maturely while other countries should help mediate the crisis before it worsen further into a regional war!