That Gulf states and particularly Gulf Cooperation Council countries are severing diplomatic ties with Qatar is not unprecedented. They withdrew ambassadors in 2014 over accusations Qatar was “destabilizing” the region.However, the upheaval following Monday’s announcement appears to be on a much wider scale because it involves maritime, air and land borders. Egypt has reportedly even banned Qatar from using its air space.Although Saudi Arabia will still accept Qatari pilgrims to Mecca, citizens are being asked to pack their bags. In addition, Etihad Airways based in the United Arab Emirates will “suspend flights to and from Qatar.” Qatari citizens will be driving home, it seems, from Saudi Arabia, the only country that shares a land border with the state.
Of greater concern than many of the petty sanctions – such as withdrawing Qatari sponsorship for a sports team – is the suspension of Qatar from taking part in the GCC’s military operations in Yemen. Historically, the Gulf monarchies have operated more or less in concert, realizing they must all hang together against large neighbors such as Iran or risk being destabilized from within by their massive foreign labor forces and other threats. Bahrain, for instance, has a large Shi’ite population and the GCC has worked to support Bahrain’s crackdown on dissidents.The expulsions of Qataris has been weeks in coming. Since US President Donald Trump gave his Riyadh speech to 50 Muslim countries, calling on them to “drive out” terror, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have been eyeing Qatar. Columnists at The National in the UAE and Al-Arabiya, were let loose to write articles detailing the way Qatar threatens the region.Hussein Shobokshi at Al-Arabiya wrote that Qatar “supports Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.” Hassan Hassan at The National accused it of supporting Islamism, including Hamas, across the region. Trump mentioned Hamas in his speech as well. This isn’t new. Qatar has been lavishing Hamas and Islamists from Tunisia to Egypt, Libya and Syria with cash for half a decade. What is new therefore is that the Gulf states and their ally Egypt have decided to act.These are precisely the same states that have warmed in recent years to seeing Israel, not as an ally, but as a state with common interests. Iran, Sunni jihadists, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah are common enemies. The states arrayed against them are what is left of the stable part of the region. Qatar is cast as the octopus-like supporter of chaos and instability, the kind that undermined Iraq and Syria. Some of this may be hyperbole, but some has truth in it.The decision to tighten sanctions on Qatar came after a slow campaign of media explanation to lay the groundwork for it. Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, was blocked in the UAE weeks ago. Al-Jazeera for its part began airing more articles critiquing Saudi Arabia’s Yemen policy. Residents in states neighboring Qatar felt that something was coming. Foreign policy was hardening. There was even talk of supporting dissidents against the Qatar regime, an unprecedented idea since destabilizing Doha could weaken the other Gulf states. However, voices in the region now see additional actions as a possibility. It is a regional crisis.For Israel, the role of Qatar in supporting Hamas has always been a thorn in its side. In the 1990s, Israel had a trade mission in Doha, but that was shut down in 2000.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE sever ties to Qatar over "terrorism" (credit: REUTERS)