By: Parnaz Talebi

Qatar row: Dichotomy of power in ME

News ID: 4001779 -
TEHRAN, Jun. 14 (MNA) – Saudi Arabia’s severing of diplomatic ties with Doha was a surprise, but to the member states of Arab League and PGCC.

A campaign was launched by Saudi Arabia on Monday, June 6, to isolate and put pressure on Qatar that was joined rapidly by Bahrain, Egypt and United Arab Emirates on the same day.  

The diplomatic row started with Bahrain’s statement claiming that "due to the insistence of the State of Qatar in further destabilizing security and stability in the Kingdom of Bahrain and interference in its affairs, continuing the escalation and incitement media and supporting armed terrorist activities… the Kingdom of Bahrain announces the severance of diplomatic relations with the State of Qatar.”

Bahrain was immediately followed by Saudi Arabia who announced its government “exercising its sovereign rights guaranteed by the international law, and protecting national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism, decided to sever diplomatic and consular relations with the State of Qatar.”

United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Libya and Yemen are the other regional states taking the same measure due to “Qatar’s support of terrorism, meddling in internal affairs and growing rapprochement with Iran.”

This is while just one week before, on May 20-21, Riyadh hosted two multilateral meetings, one between the members of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council and the other with Arab and Muslim countries’ leaders along with US’s Donald Trump during which focus was on further cooperation and unity in fight against terrorism, or better said, forming an Arab coalition against Iran.

Also during the summit, Trump slammed Iran for supporting Bashar al-Assad and Saudi Arabia, on behalf of all the guests, condemned Iran for its hostile policies and threatened it with an adequate response.

However, tensions between Qatar and its neighbors escalated when a Qatari news agency posted a speech on behalf of the country's emir in supporting ties with Iran.

The remarks were rejected by Qatari Foreign Ministry who announced that the agency’s site was hacked and the remarks do not belong to Emir.

The severance of ties in such a turmoil condition in the Middle East could seem surprising and sudden, though it’s not.

Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in late May as the first destination of his first foreign tour marks the extent to which US relies on its key ally in the Middle East. No doubt Trump’s trip was an effort to fulfill particular US interests in the region including inflaming tensions, escalating the fight against Syria, Palestine, Yemen and Iran under the pretext of fight against terrorism and empowering Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday, Trump also underlined the aims his visit was seeking and the outcomes deeming the isolating actions by Arab nations as the possible beginning of the end of terrorism; "so good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar," Trump stated in a Twitter message. "Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!"

Meanwhile, there have been preparations in US against Qatar. The Zionist lobby organization “Foundation for the Defense of Democracy” held a conference on Qatar on 23rd of May, just after the Riyadh summit during which several panelists talked about Qatar, its affiliation with Muslim Brotherhood and the policies US would follow against the Arab country. Ed Royce, a congressman who also serves as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, underlined “I know that the argument is being made that Qatar will be, you know, part of helping finance our new anti-terror center and so forth in the Middle East and I think that's good. I think it's – there's always the possibility that you can change behavior. But I would say when the behavior is so wrong on so many different issues, if there's going to be a change, it needs to be immediate. So I think there's going to be a great deal of pressure on Qatar to change its behavior.”

Saudi Arabia, emboldened with its key backer US, tried to unite Arab states against Iran and its allies in Riyadh summit within a frame called Arab NATO. Trump’s first foreign visit to a country involved in 9/11 attacks and the leader of sponsorship of terrorism in the Middle East who is responsible for crises in Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, was a political game clearly indicating what’s going on behind the scenes. While the US has been trying to milk Riyadh, Saudis are trying to buy and use the Washington card to increase their influence in the region and turn into a regional power by forming coalitions under the pretext of fight against terrorism or sectarian conflicts. Yet the speculations didn’t come true as the outcome of the summit was not a united voice against Iran and allies but a split in the Arab world. Most Arab and Muslim leaders in the Riyadh summit have showed up despite their will and they were not even aware of the statement issued after the meeting wrapped up. “We were not aware of the announcement in Riyadh; rather we thought that no statement would be issued after the summit and we were surprised by its issuance and content when we were on the plane returning to Lebanon,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Gibran Bassil has said.

Even the arms deal sealed between US and the kingdom doesn’t seem to get to implementation phase at all. The deal in US needs approval of Congress and in Saudi side, faces payment problems as the kingdom has already depleted its financial reserves.

Saudi-led blockade of Qatar is another step toward the final goal of Saudi leadership of an Arab coalition in the region against states like Iran, Syria, Iraq and even Turkey, who has also been absent in the Riyadh Summit. Why Qatar? Doha has been a somehow independent and pioneer state in the region, yet with double standards towards its neighbors in the Middle East. Qatar also enjoys from stable economic and political status. Maybe now it’s time for Qatar to clearly announce its affiliations and this has been mostly felt by Saudi Arabia who is stuck in financial and political crises it has provoked in the region by launching a futile war campaign in Yemen for more than two years and supporting armed groups and terrorists in Syria and Iraq. 

Kingdom of Al Saud is supported by the United States in this regard but Qatar also hosts the al-Udeid airbase, the largest US military base in the Middle East, which is home to more than 10,000 US servicemen and serves as a major communications and operational center for Washington in the region. Therefore, Saudis would not receive the support they expect from US in the blockading of Doha. This also rules out the option of military invasion, but a military coup to overthrow the government in Doha is still valid. This becomes a more solid and viable option remembering that most forces of Qatar’s army are from a Pakistan loyal to its ally US and an ideology close to that of Saudi Arabia.

Being more realistic, the isolation seeks to put pressure on Qatar to give up against Saudi kingdom and get in the line with Saudis on regional issues. Yet, Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey have so far announced unconditional support for the isolated Qatar. Doha would face difficult days in upcoming weeks and would have to make a very difficult decision: to join the Saudi alliance with certain countries of the Middle East as well as United States and Israeli regime whose crimes in the region are crystal clear or to maintain its sovereignty and join Iran, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and their allies, whose support have been proved so many times in the history and are in a true fight against evils in the strategic and turmoil Middle East.

Parnaz Talebi has done her MA in North American Studies in University of Tehran. 

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