Qatar Crisis to Ease: Takeaways and Future Prospects
Donald Trump has accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism at the highest levels. During an appearance alongside the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, at the White House on June 9, the president said he had decided that «the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding … and its extremist ideology». His comments marked the US intervention in a crisis triggered on June 5 when Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched a coordinated diplomatic and economic campaign to isolate Qatar, accusing it of supporting armed groups and Iran – the allegations Doha has repeatedly rejected. Western diplomats also accuse the Qatar’s government of allowing or even encouraging the funding of some Sunni extremists, such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham – the al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.
A few days passed since the US president lashed out at Doha and… Qatar сonluded an agreement to buy 36 F-15 fighter aircraft at a cost of $12 billion from the US on June 14! The deal was signed by Minister of State for Defence Affairs Dr. Khalid bin Mohammed al Attiyah and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Washington.
The Pentagon said the purchase will give Qatar a «state of the art» capability. According to the Qatari defense chief, «The signing of this agreement marks another step towards strengthening our strategic defence relations with the US». The deal will contribute to the creation of 60,000 jobs in 42 states. The message is – no problem with funding terrorism if it benefits US defense industry. This is a good example to illustrate what «America First» means in practice.
Moreover, two US Navy vessels arrived in Doha to take part in a joint military exercise with the Qatari Navy on the very same day that Doha signed the F-15 jets deal.
Right after the crisis sparked, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lined up behind Qatar in its feud with Saudi Arabia and regional allies, offering to mediate a resolution of crisis. On June 8, Erdogan signed off on the Turkish Parliament’s approval to deploy up to 5,000 troops to Qatar.
On June 14, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, visited Doha in a show of diplomatic support. The next stops on his Persian Gulf trip were Kuwait, which has also been seeking to mediate in the dispute, and Saudi Arabia. Iraq has opposed to the isolation of Qatar. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi flew to Saudi Arabia on June 14 for talks with Saudi King Salman. As the crisis started, Iraq tried to remain neutral, the same way Kuwait, Oman, Morocco and Jordan do.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, speaking after talks in Washington with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on June 13, said the sanctions did not amount to a blockade since Qatar’s airports and ports remained open, and offered to send food and medical supplies to Qatar if needed. Qatar confirmed that the closure of transport links «is a siege, not a boycott». Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathi said on June 13 that Egypt would allow airlines and aircraft that are not registered in Egypt or Qatar to use its airspace to fly to and from Qatar. About 350,000 Egyptians live in Qatar, many of them having escaped economic woes at home.
Pakistan also refused to join the anti-Qatar blockade. European gas importers expressed concern and called for putting an end to the crisis.
These facts indicate that Qatar is not isolated and the tensions appear to gradually ease. But regardless of the outcome of the rift, Doha will draw lessons and seek to diversify its partnerships away from its traditional allies.
As soon as the crisis broke out, Russia was engaged in mediation activities with Russia and Qatari foreign chiefs holding a phone conversation. Moscow has not taken sides to make it well placed to play the role of neutral mediator, especially against the background of American president’s flip flop and despite the fact the United States regards the region as its backyard. It has various instruments for influencing the situation and is well positioned to have a peacemaking effect on the parties to the conflict without direct interference.
Qatar has more influence on Syria’s armed opposition than Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. By joining the Russia-Turkey-Iran peace effort, it can become an important actor in the Syrian conflict to boost its clout in the region with Saudi Arabia’s influence to diminish.
Another takeaway is that there is no such thing as an anti-Iran coalition led by Saudi Arabia and no «Arab Nato». The concept is a pipedream. The 55 countries, who gathered in Riyadh on May 25, are too divided. There is no unity even among the GCC states, as the recent rift confirms. But the Russia-Turkey-Iran axis is becoming more influential. As the Qatar crisis proved, Syria is not the only place where their interests converge. If the pressure on Qatar grows stronger, the richest Arab nation will shift to the Russia-Turkey-Iran trio and change its policies accordingly.
By Alex Gorka
Source: Strategic Culture