So what does a geopolitical bombshell look like, exactly? Well, something like what took place this past week in the Gulf. Namely:
- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Egypt, Mauritania, Yemen, and the Bayda-based so-called “eastern” government in Libya (and Maldives, don’t forget Maldives!) all cut diplomatic ties with Qatar this week.
- The governments of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain have ordered all Qatari citizens out of their respective countries within the next two weeks.
- Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain have also banned all sea and air travel to and from Qatar, with Saudi Arabia shutting down the embattled state’s only land border.
- The UAE has made it illegal for any of its citizens to even voice support for Qatar, punishing offenders with hefty fines and up to 15 years in jail(and these are our “moderate” allies).
- Egypt is trying to get the U.N. to investigate Qatar for a 2015 incident where the Qataris allegedly paid $1 billion to a terrorist group in Iraq to free 26 hostages, including members of the Qatari royal family.
- Egypt issued a 10-point ultimatum with a 24-hour deadline calling on the Qataris to sever diplomatic relations with Iran, expel members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, close down Al Jazeera, and end support for terrorist organizations, among other items.
- Turkey’s parliament, meanwhile, has fast-tracked legislation allowing troops to be deployed to a Turkish base in Qatar in an apparent show of solidarity with its regional ally.
That, my friends, is a geopolitical bombshell.
Now, as out-of-the-blue as all this might appear to casual observers of the region, it makes more sense if one puts these events into the larger historical context of ongoing tense relations between the State of Qatar and its Arab neighbors. Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and Egypt had a months-long diplomatic dispute with the Qataris just three years ago that involved the withdrawal of those countries’ ambassadors from the capital city of Doha over the state’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other non-Saudi-approved extremists. Saudi Arabia has also closed Qatar’s land border during upheavals in the past.
But still, this particular dust-up is clearly an order of magnitude above previous tiffs, and it’s magnified by the precarious nature of a region already on the knife-edge in so many ways.
So the obvious question is, why? What line was crossed that necessitated a reaction like this? And why now?
The official position, expressed in the avalanche of official notices announcing the cutting of diplomatic ties on Monday, blamed Qatar for destabilizing the governments of its gulf neighbors, manipulating public opinion via its Al Jazeera mouthpiece, supporting terrorists, financing groups linked to Iran, denying previous commitments, and “disregarding the principles of good neighborliness” (yes, that’s a thing in international law).
Of course, these are nothing but vague generalities and a pot-calling-the-kettle-black level of hypocrisy, and absolutely no one (MSM, independent media, think tanks, talking heads, or assorted others) is taking these statements at face value.
But still, there has to be something more to this story than just long-simmering tensions over Qatari support for various groups that the Saudis are not fond of. Indeed, there certainly is “something more” here—or, to be more precise, several things more.
So what’s really behind this bombshell?
Well, it isn’t hard to see why there’d be some resentment of Qatar amongst its Arab “allies”(?) in the region.
When, for example, Gaddafi’s compound in Libya fell during the 2011 decimation of that country, it was a Qatari flag that was flown over the bombed-out building. Al Jazeera has not only been blamed for helping to incite the so-called “Arab spring,” but its own on-air personalities brag about it openly, pointing to the ouster of Mubarak in Egypt as an example of how the Qatari network has helped shape the region.
And what about Qatar’s support for Iran? It was the publication of a report about the Qatari emir criticizing the other Gulf states and speaking in defense of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood that was the immediate cause of this latest brouhaha in the first place.
As an incredibly phantasmagoric sidenote to the main kerfuffle, the story of that alleged report about the Qatari emir’s comments is a whopper. Long story short: Appearing on QNA (the Qatari News Agency), the report was pulled down within half an hour. The Qatari foreign ministry issued a statement explaining that it was a fabrication planted on the QNA site by hackers. Can you guess how long it took before the FBI (yes, the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigations) turned this highly unlikely cover story into a chance to blame “Russian hacker” boogeymen?
And Saudi Arabia has not been shy about its own bid to become the dominant player in the region. It has used not only the infamous, infinitely meme-able orb-opening of its Riyadh-based “Center for Combating Extremism” as well as the $100 billion+ US arms deal/bribe as ways of insuring it remains in the regional driver’s seat in the coming years, but it has flexed its fledgling military muscle by massacring Yemen (with US backing) and floating various versions of a Saudi-dominated “Islamic Military Alliance” (or maybe an “Arab NATO“?) with Iran and its defenders firmly in its crosshairs.
Another intriguing reason for why this is all coming to a head right now presents itself in the form of collusion between a close associate of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and a neocon think tank. Specifically, leaked emails from the U.A.E. Ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba (who, it must be noted, is “in almost constant phone and email contact” with Kushner) reveal that Otaiba has engaged in a year-long campaign to discredit Qatar in the U.S. He has received support for his anti-Qatari crusade from The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a group of neocons who lobby extensively for Israeli “security” matters in Washington. The foundation is very close to Bibi Netanyahu himself and boasts members like John Hannah, a former aide to Dick Cheney. The FDD hosts events featuring the likes of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and has received funding from GOP kingmaker and staunch Zionist Sheldon Adelson. The leaked emails show how Otaiba coordinates and disseminates anti-Qatari talking points with FDD associates and others who are influential in Washington circles.
In his article on the drama in the Gulf this week, Pepe Escobar observes that both the U.A.E. and the Saudis are angling to position themselves near the top of the heap in what could be a Trump-approved, Washington-backed, Israel-friendly, Riyadh-led anti-Iran alliance. As Escobar notes, “Unlike Qatar, the House of Saud and the UAE are one step away from establishing diplomatic relations with Israel – the sine qua non condition imposed by Washington to insert Israel in an anti-Iran Arab NATO guided by Riyadh.”
Related Reading: The Impending Iranian “Liberation,” And US Destabilization
In reality, as with any other geopolitical bombshell there may be one specific incident that sparked the powder keg (like the mysterious “hacked”(?) QNA report). But there are a number of different factors that compel each of the players at the table to act in their own interests.
Perhaps the most important question is where this is all headed. Some are speculating that things are moving toward military confrontation. Given that Qatar is currently host to the largest US military base in the Middle East, coupled with the fact that NATO-member Turkey is sending troops in an overt display of military support, a military showdown is almost unthinkable in the short term. Nonetheless, it is a dramatic move by the Saudi-led faction to remove Qatar from the table and plant itself firmly in the center of a Gulf alliance against Iran. Given that Qatar’s power primarily comes from its immense petroleum wealth and its ability to influence events in the region through Al Jazeera, it is unclear what Qatar can do to regain any semblance of upper hand.
Meanwhile, Iran looks on from afar, surely sensing that it is the ultimate long-term target of all this maneuvering.