The big news has been the terror attack in the UK and the events developing around the Trump Russia probe……but there is another happening that few are watching….
The debacle of Qatar…….
Early Monday morning, five Arab states—Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen—along with the Maldives, broke all diplomatic and physical ties with the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar. All six countries say they are withdrawing their diplomats from Qatar within 48 hours and expect Qatari diplomats to reciprocate within the same time frame, and other Qatari nationals in those countries have two weeks to leave. Those countries have also cut all land, sea, and air contact with Qatar—meaning, among other things, that Qatar’s land border with Saudi Arabia is now closed, airlines from those six countries will no longer fly into Qatar, and Qatar Airways flights have been barred from their airspace.
I find it interesting that this occurs just a few short days after a visit from Trump….this attempt to isolate Qatar from the rest of the Persian Gulf world…..but how will it effect Qatar?
The decision by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab nations to sever ties with Qatar on Monday reflects a long-standing dispute between Qatar and its regional neighbors. In fact, a similar fallout happened in 2014, but Monday’s events mark a “severe escalation” that could eventually alter the balance of power in the region, per an analysis at the BBC. Nations aren’t just pulling diplomats, they’re cutting off land, sea, and air travel, and Qatar relies heavily on imports for its survival. Here’s what’s happening:
- Terror accusations: The official Saudi press accused Qatar of supporting “terrorist and sectarian groups” such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar denies supporting militant groups and says there’s no “legitimate justification” for the moves.
- More broadly: “The feud—the most serious in decades among some the region’s most key Western allies—has been simmering for years as Qatar increasingly flexed its political muscle across the region, including backing the Muslim Brotherhood,” per the Washington Post. The Saudis also accuse Qatar of backing its arch-rival, Iran.
- Bogus article? Two weeks ago, a Qatari news report quoted Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad as criticizing Saudi Arabia and praising Iran, among other things. Qatar later claimed its news websites had been hacked, but the article seems to have been a factor leading to Monday’s actions, reports the Atlantic.
- Trump’s visit: Another factor could be President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, notes the New York Times. Generally, analysts think the Saudis feel more emboldened under Trump, with one analyst saying the “moves reflected a ‘bullishness’ prompted by the Trump administration’s stances—on the confrontation with Iran and on a willingness to look the other way on human rights violations.”
- US military: Qatar is home to the Al Udeid Air Base, where 11,000 US personnel are stationed and from which attacks on ISIS targets are launched, notes the AP. Trouble with the base could complicate US military strategy, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered to mediate.
- Big shift? The base, however, may no longer be enough to keep Qatar in the US’ good graces, writes David Roberts at the BBC. Other Gulf states might offer to replace it. “The argument to President Trump may be compelling: with US help, Qatar might be persuaded to evict Hamas leadership from Doha and genuinely cut back on funding Islamist groups. It seems that the time of Qatar’s individualistic foreign policy may be up.”
It is our way or the highway…..but will that really work….will these actions harm Qatar and its economy?
Qatar is one of the smallest oil producers in OPEC, at 618,000 barrels per day, but condensate (light oil) and natural gas liquids — byproducts of its giant North Field — add about another 1.3 million barrels per day. It will stay in the OPEC production cuts deal, and even if it does not, its contribution is small. Its real power comes from being the world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter.
I fear that this incident could drive Qatar into the sphere of Iran…..and that could be a bigger problem in the making.
The US president did what he always does….he Tweeted!
On Monday, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen, Bahrain, and Egypt cut all commercial and diplomatic ties with Qatar in order to isolate the country over its support for extremist groups, the New York Times reports. In a series of tweets Tuesday morning, President Trump took credit for that decision, saying that it was “so good to see” and that his recent visit to Saudi Arabia was “already paying off.” According to CNN, Qatar is an important US ally, and Trump hamstrung attempts by the Defense and State departments to remain neutral in the growing diplomatic crisis. Qatar is home to US Central Command forward headquarters, from which it launches airstrikes against the Islamic State. The Al Udeid military base is home to approximately 10,000 American troops.
Trump’s statements against Qatar broke not only with the US’ historically neutral stance in regards to such Gulf state conflicts, but with Trump himself. Less than a month ago, the president was complimentary toward Qatar and said the relationship between it and the US was “extremely good.” Spokespeople for the State and Defense departments quickly issued statements saying the US is “grateful” to Qatar for its support of the US military. And Sean Spicer said the “US still wants to see this issue de-escalated and resolved,” the BBC reports. Some Pentagon officials were reportedly shocked at Trump’s comments, and it’s possible Qatar will now make things more difficult for US military operations there. (For more on the isolation of Qatar and what it means for the Middle East, click here.)
With all the crap flowing freely…the US military still has good things to say about Qatar……
The Pentagon on Tuesday renewed praise of Qatar for hosting a vital U.S. air base and for its “enduring commitment to regional security,” sticking to a message of reassurance even as President Donald Trump, via Twitter, applauded a decision by Arab powers to cut ties to the Gulf ally.
It was the latest example of the tightrope that U.S. officials are walking as Trump’s tweets raise questions about existing U.S. policy and the carefully scripted talking points used to explain it.
In the case of Qatar, the stakes are high. More than 11,000 U.S. and coalition forces are deployed to or assigned to al Udeid Air Base, from which more than 100 aircraft operate.
Of those 11,000, nearly 1,000 work in a combined air operations center that helps oversee missions for campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the military says
How will this end?