Complicating Middle East split

Five Middle East countries have severed ties with Qatar, complicating an already very complex situation there, and and making things awkward for the US which has a major military base there.

NY Times: 5 Arab States Break Ties With Qatar, Complicating U.S. Coalition-Building

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed all ties with Qatar

early Monday, in a renewal of a four-year effort to isolate it and in a sign of a new boldness after a visit to the region by President Trump.

In an abrupt and surprising move, the five Arab states not only suspended diplomatic relations, as they have in the past, but also cut off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar. All but Egypt, which has many thousands of people working there, ordered their citizens to leave the country.

Qatar, like other monarchies in the Persian Gulf, is a close ally of Washington, and it hosts a major American military base that commands the United States-led air campaign against the Islamic State.

As such, the feud among regional allies threatens to stress the operations of the American-led coalition and complicate efforts in the region to confront Iran — but could also be a heavy blow to Tehran’s regional ambitions, if Qatar is forced to sever ties.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson offered to broker the impasse on Monday in the hope of preserving the Trump administration’s efforts to create broad coalitions against Iran and terrorist groups in the Middle East.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand may be little more than some time out from difficult and complex issues elsewhere in the world.

The severing of all connections by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen created an immediate crisis for Qatar. Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave their posts in Bahrain, while Qatari citizens were allotted two weeks to depart Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia said it was taking the action to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.” The Foreign Ministry of Qatar released a statement saying the action had “no basis in fact” and was “unjustified.”

The Iranian government criticized the Saudi-led action against Qatar in a diplomatically worded rebuke. “Neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on his Twitter account. “Coercion is never the solution,” Mr. Zarif said. “Dialogue is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan.”

Why make this move, and why now?

It was not immediately clear why the five countries decided to take this action now. Last month, Qatar’s state news media published comments attributed to the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, referring to tension with Washington over Iran policy and saying Mr. Trump might not be in power for long. Qatar denied the comments, saying it had been the victim of a “cybercrime.”

But most analysts pointed to President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

But the move also creates potential complications for the United States — raising questions about whether the Trump administration knew it was happening; if they understood the pitfalls; if they attempted to counter it and could not.

Everything is a complication in the Middle East.

In another indication of how the Trump visit may have emboldened Gulf monarchies, Bahrain has cracked down on opposition from its Shiite majority over the last two weeks.

In international affairs even the best intentions rarely achieve their aims without at least some adverse reactions and effects.

Its actions are a study in contradictions. Qatar has good relations with Iran, but hosts the American air base, is helping to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and supports insurgents against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Tehran. And yet, the Qatari emir once gave Mr. Assad an Airbus plane.

Home to some Israeli officials, Qatar has also given refuge to Khaled Mashal, a leader of Hamas, the hard-line Islamist group in Gaza that advocates the destruction of Israel.

Tensions had been building for years, beginning with Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and through the broadcasts of the Pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera, which Qatar funds.

Qatar’s rivals have also faulted it for condoning fund-raising for militant Islamist groups fighting in Syria, although several of the other Sunni-led monarchies in the region have played similar roles.

So the US has a military base that it uses to fight ISIS in a country that allegedly supports fund raising for ISIS.

Qatar’s opponents have recently added a third allegation to those grievances: that it is conspiring with their regional rival, Iran.

In his visit to the Middle East Trump named Iran as the main enemy of peace in the Middle East.

However the crisis is resolved, if at all, Mr. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who appeared in their first joint news conference, in Sydney, Australia, after talks with their Australian counterparts, insisted that it would not undermine the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Tillerson will visit New Zealand today. I doubt whether political protests against Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord – see Futile protest against US climate stance – will be very high on Tillerson’s list of concerns.

6 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  June 6, 2017

    I have been watching events unfolding over the past few days since the reported leak of the *fake documents*, because Al Jazeera tv is based on 12 hours broadcasting from their studios in Doha, then handing over to their London studios in The Shard, it has employed, and I think still does, several presenters, reporters & technical staff from New Zealand, appears from the way their Doha presenters dress, to be a reasonably progressive Middle Eastern state, & if it maintains that dialogue with Iran is better than sanctions & threats, I think is right. I was concerned that Trump would embolden the Saudi-dominated Sunni states to start actions against the Shiia populations & Mother State. I need to find out more about the history of the place. I do not trust the Saudis one bit. A big challenge for Trump & his administration for, I think, a badly misguided foreign policy here.

  2. Brown

     /  June 6, 2017

    I watched the old classic “Lawrence of Arabia” on Netflix the other day. Toward the end when Damascus has been conquered the Arab tribes have divided up the water, power etc… utilities and very quickly nothing works because they all hate each other and won’t deal with each other in a businesslike sense. It was amusing and remains the Arab achilles heel. I suspect it was true enough then and remains so today so another spat is just Arab / Muslim business as normal where local tribalism is second only to the branch of Islam you follow.

    • Gezza

       /  June 6, 2017

      I pthink that is correct. It’s a problem in much of Africa generally, even Islam is dominant, the tribalism is, & it’s complicated by corruption being essentially an extension of many tribal culturally-based power & social structures where payments or gifts to smooth the wheels of favour-granting & asssistance are seen as having been normal for centuries, so it gets exploited by police & security & other officials in nominal democracies or hierarchies.

      • Gezza

         /  June 6, 2017

        Drat, something was cut during an edit & I didn’t notice.

        * even when Islam is not the dominant religion … that should say.

        • Brown

           /  June 6, 2017

          I up ticked you because you agreed with me so, see, I can be happy.

          • Gezza

             /  June 6, 2017

            I know. You have a lovely woman now, I believe. That is a source of much happiness in my experience. Thank you for the uptick.