US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is welcomed at the airport by Kuwait Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah in Kuwait City.
(photo credit: HANDOUT)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a mission to end the Qatar crisis.
On Monday, he flew to Kuwait at the invitation of the emir to discuss “ongoing efforts to resolve the Gulf dispute,” according to the State Department. It is part of a multi-day trip to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Yemen, Maldives and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5 and 6. The unprecedented decision by three of Qatar’s five Gulf Cooperation Council partners (Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain) to cut ties went beyond withdrawing ambassadors. Qataris were expelled, and the land border and airspace closed.
The results of the crisis thus far, what the countries hope to accomplish and the implications of the dispute are complex. The broad brush strokes of what has happened are as follows.
Turkey has stepped in militarily to defend Qatar, sending a battalion of troops that could eventually number up to 1,000 men to protect the small country from invasion by its much more powerful Saudi neighbor. The US has expressed two views. The Saudis and the UAE were following President Donald Trump’s call to “drive out” terrorism, including Hezbollah and Hamas, when they chose to isolate Qatar after May’s US presidential visit. But the US State Department and Defense Department, the latter of which maintains a massive base in Qatar, have urged a resolution to the crises. Kuwait has emerged as a conduit for negotiations. European states have also urged a resolution to the crises, with the German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel even warning that war could break out.
Russia and Iran have supported dialogue to end the crises. For Israel, the isolation of Qatar is a welcome development as it reduces support for Hamas and reveals Qatar’s ties to Iran.
Qatar has responded by hiring lobbyists abroad to support its cause and arguing that the blockade and other actions against the country violate international law. On June 23, Saudi Arabia and its cohorts gave Qatar 10 days to meet a series of demands, including ending ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas, closing Al Jazeera, downgrading relations with Iran and expelling Turkish troops.
Roughly, the demands amount to reining in Qatar’s independent foreign policy, ending its support for media that neighboring states say meddle in internal issues, and stopping contacts with terrorists groups and hosting terrorists. Qatar plays the victim in all this, pretending its rights and freedom of the press are being curtailed, but it is the same country that hosts extremist preachers such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi who supports suicide bombings.
The sympathy for Al Jazeera rarely notes that it is state-run media and that its critical voice in places like Egypt is not part of an overall journalistic ability to also critique its paymasters in Doha, but very much part of Doha’s worldview.
Qatar has not buckled under pressure. Food supplies are kept up by deliveries from Turkey and Iran.
The Economist thinks the emirate is “well placed to hold out.”
According to Jonathan Schanzer at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, “the isolation of Qatar has been a tactical failure but a strategic victory.” He argues that the longer the siege goes on, the more the world becomes aware of Qatar’s support for groups like “Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaida in Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood.” The Saudi-led bloc can choose to continue isolation with the hope that Qatar will moderate its views, or become tougher and create a new Gulf Cooperation Council without Qatar and even consider “regime change” in the emirate. “The most important thing now is to ensure that this crises does not play into the hands of Iran or Russia.”
Ghanem Nuseibeh, the founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, a strategic consultancy that is focused on the Gulf Cooperation Council, agrees that the crises has exposed Qatar’s support for terrorist groups. “It has also brought to the fore the importance of challenging Qatar and that its Western partners can no longer turn a blind eye in return for business deals.” He argues that the crises has forced Qatar to depend on others for survival and revealed that “Qatar is basically not a viable independent state.”
For more than a decade the Saudis have complained of the same issues regarding Qatar. Although Qatar moderated its policies since the abdication of Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in 2013, there are rumors, spread in media in the UAE and elsewhere, that, according to one report at The National, “he is indeed the man in charge in Doha.”
The problem is that the Saudi-led bloc seems to have hedged its bets.
It didn’t go all-in on day one with a ground invasion, or percolate up some sort of palace coup in Doha and then intervene under the pretense of restoring stability.
But if the Saudis and Abu Dhabi thought they could shake things up in Doha, they have been sadly mistaken so far. Perhaps the problem is that Riyadh, which led the charge in ejecting Saddam Hussein from Kuwait by accusing him of invading another Arab state’s sovereignty, is particularly shy of actually invading its neighbor. What about its role in Yemen then? That is ostensibly an invasion to aid the recognized government of Yemen. Either way, the Turkish wall that sits between Saudi and Doha today has altered whatever the Gulf Cooperation Council thought would happen on June 5.