Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries have cut diplomatic and economic ties to Qatar in an unprecedented move that is designed to punish one of the region’s financial superpowers because of its ties to Iran and Islamist groups in the region.
- Qatar stocks dropped by 6% within hours.
- They plan to break off all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar along with the expulsion of diplomats.
- Qatar was also expelled from a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
- Qatari air travel in the region has been suspended.
- Vast military and diplomatic consequences now present themselves to the US.
This diplomatic crisis spurns from Saudi claims that Qatar is backing terrorist groups including ISIS, along with backing arch-rival Iran’s agenda. This co-ordinated move escalates a long-running dispute over Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist movement.
Saudi Arabia said its decision was due to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region”, including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, Islamic State and groups supported by Iran in the kingdom’s restive eastern province of Qatif.
However, analysts note that along with these allegations, Qatar sponsors the new channel Al Jazeera – a company that is frequently critical of Saudi and Egyptian authorities.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the decisions “unjustified.” “The State of Qatar has been subjected to a campaign of lies that have reached the point of complete fabrication,” the statement said. “It reveals a hidden plan to undermine the State of Qatar.”
A history of sour relations
The already rocky relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were strained in late May when the Saudis accused Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, of calling for improved ties with Iran and criticising some Gulf Arab states.
Qatari officials claimed the comments were the work of hackers who broke into the website of the Qatar state news agency, and were now under investigation. But Saudi Arabia rejects that explanation.
Qatar’s odds with other Sunni Arab nations were exacerbated by the financial support provided to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which led the former government and opposed the Egyptian army’s takeover as an illegal military coup. A takeover which Saudi Arabia and the UAE supported.
Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.
Qatar is a major regional ally of the United States, hosting crucial military bases. The American-led air war command in the fight against the Islamic State, for example, is at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, home to 10,000 American troops. Qatar is also the host for the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command, which oversees all American military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson offered to broker the impasse due to the Trump administration’s hop of creating a broad coalition against Iran and terror groups in the Middle East.
“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Mr. Tillerson said. “If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the G.C.C. remain unified,” he said, adding a reference to the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of Persian Gulf countries.
This split has come just two weeks after President Trump had visited the Saudi capital, Riyadh – sealing major defence contracts with Saudi Arabia worth $110bn, and set up an anti-extremist institute in Riyadh and urge the Gulf States to build an alliance against Iran. All moves hoping for better cooperation with the Saudis in a fight against extremism.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, currently in Australia with Rex Tillerson, said, “I am confident there will be no implications.” However, this escalating confrontation is a new and unwelcome complication for the US military, hoping to form a broad coalition.
Rex Tillerson, played down the seriousness of the diplomatic dispute, and said it would not affect counter-terrorism efforts.
“I think what we’re witnessing is a growing list of irritants in the region that have been there for some time, and they’ve bubbled up so that countries have taken action in order to have those differences addressed,” he said.
“I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified – the united – fight against terrorism in the region or globally. All of those parties you mentioned have been quite unified in the fight against terrorism and the fight against Daesh, Isis, and have expressed that most recently in the summit in Riyadh.”