The Gulf Diplomatic Crisis: Qatar on the verge of disaster


By Sishir Devkota–The foreign minister of Iran, Javed Narif’s tweet on how neighborly relations are permanent might have come as a relief to Qatar at a time when friendships have strained. Qatar’s lifeline-Saudi Arabia has withdrawn its trust from Qatar’s ambitions; specifically due to its economic ties with Iran. The former British protectorate has been isolated but Saudi Arabia’s patience with Qatar’s aspirations was fast shrinking. The recent crisis in the Gulf peninsula is not about historical enmities; nor is it about conspiracies culminating from interventionist western policies. Instead the standoff is between two enemies with a common friend- Qatar. It is the cost Qataris have paid for preserving their association on either side of resource rich Persian Gulf. There are three different sides to this story.

Riyadh’s annoyance

While Qatar backed Mohammad Morsi as the President of Egypt in 2013, Saudi Arabia trusted the Egyptian army and eventually forced a regime change in Cairo. The differences between Riyadh and Doha are not new but the power hierarchies between crowns and their deputies in Saudi Arabia is a mandatory mention to dissect the Saudi account of the crisis. The current diplomatic bullying against Qatar is led by Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud- essentially only a deputy crown prince to the throne. The absence of reactions from the king and the crown prince themselves has provided a diplomatic space for Qatar to work on. There is every possibility that the current Saudi action against Qatar could be a unilateral decision by the deputy- not the leadership. This not only complicates the opportunity of engagement with Saudi actors at Qatar’s disposal but also threatens the quiet stability of the royal palace in Riyadh. In that sense, Riyadh’s actions could be the result of strategic personal ambitions. The speed in which events unfolded on early days of June 2017 is a testimony to that. Doha might be dealing with the angry Saudi government or just a fraction of it.

Doha’s disappointment

At the backdrop of Qatar deploying more than thousand troops to support Saudi led government in Yemen; Qataris feel backstabbed for fulfilling their duties and maintaining peace in the region. However, the United Arab Emirates has repeatedly criticized Qatar’s double standard of supporting the government in Yemen but also funding protesting militias1 backed by Iran. Doha has noted Abu Dhabi’s hypocrisy of sustaining relations with Tehran; yet questioning Qatar’s political integrity. Until recently, Doha has successfully avoided a Bahrain type of fate in the region and it is with such apprehension that the Qataris have expanded their diplomatic reach across continents and gained political credibility.Qatar will look to cash on that and defy Saudi’s threat to its existence. Doha is disappointed but it has not come without any sense of anticipation. Living cautiously alongside the Persian Gulf-Qatar is facing the worst possible fate and the recent visit of Donald Trump to Riyadh might have just boosted Mohammad bin Salman’s confidence to intimidate Qatar. Despite being a strong US ally, recent events in the Gulf has forced Doha to seek help from the likes of Turkey, East Asia or even Iran.

Tehran’s odd chance

On paper, Tehran wants stability in the Gulf. But, it is Iran who has finally been able to force a Saudi mistake to hand over Qatari allegiance on the other side of the peninsula. In between Iran and Qatar lies the world’s largest gas reserve; which both the nations have gladly shared. Iran will see the recent events as a significant mistake by power mongers in Riyadh. Iran can not only forge new set of relations with Qatar but also with Bahrain and Kuwait. The tensions in the region were always apparent but it is Saudi Arabia who has triggered the crisis and it will be the first to reap the consequences. Tehran has been offered a range of options to deal with the current dilemma but it will most importantly utilize its odd chance of playing the role of a peacemaker; or at least of a perceived one. Because Qatar will look towards Turkey for help, it will allow Iran with a new platform to engage as Qatar’s friend and expand its influence. Iran’s goodwill with Qatar has provided a huge opportunity for the sanction hit nation to force their strategic plan in the Middle East. Iran will appear very concerned but in reality; Tehran is finally celebrating a long awaited success.

While many commentators will argue that Qatar’s punishment was long overdue; the speed in which Saudi Arabia has strangled the tiny nation has caught global attention. More so than ever, Riyadh has displayed its cracks by the way it has dealt with the issue. Saudi actions of grouping all its allies against Qatar in a matter of hours has been captivating but is it a power show or a deep lying Saudi insecurity arising from Qatar’s rise? Did the Trump administration actually earmark the Saud’s to proceed with their retribution? Or has Saudi Arabia already taken a leap of faith to surprise the world? In modern day diplomacy, territorial sovereignty is assured at any cost but this time Qatar is on the verge. The world will struggle to avoid a disaster; explicitly because Doha has been poisoned- by its own neighbors.

Notes:

  1. Qatar has been accused of supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen which is also backed by Iran. It is the same incident which has been used by Saudi Arabia as a justification to their actions against Doha. The Houthis have been active for more than 10 years and have successfully captured regions in Yemen like the province of Sanna. The current crisis is therefore a reflection of power struggles taking place between Iran and Saudi Arabia inside Yemen. 

 

Published on June 7, 2017.

 

 

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