In a climate of outright confrontation, even the Gulf monarchies have been overtaken by a series of unprecedented events. The differences between Qatar on one side, and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the other, have escalated into a full-blown diplomatic crisis with outcomes difficult to foresee.
Officially, everything started with statements made by Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani that appeared on the Qatar News Agency (QNA) on May 23, 2017. A few hours before the conference between the 50 Arab countries and the US President, Al Thani was reported to have said the same words that appeared on QNA. The speech was very indulgent towards Iran and described the idea of an “Arab NATO” as unnecessary. The exact words are not known because the event in which Al Thani had made such incendiary remarks concerned military matters and was thus not accessible to the general public. Especially to be noted is that QNA denies having published words in question and attributed them to a cyber-attack.
Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (Source: Flickr)
The public dissemination of the Emir’s words on QNA promptly provoked an unprecedented diplomatic crisis in the Gulf. Immediately, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Egypt and the Maldives took advantage of the confusion created by Al Thani’s alleged words by enacting a series of extreme measures while accusing Doha of supporting international terrorism (through Hamas, al Qaeda, Iran and Daesh). Qatar’s ambassadors in the countries mentioned were requested to return home within 48 hours, and Qatari citizens were given 14 days to leave Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. At the same time, Riyadh proceeded to close its airspace as well as land and sea borders to Qatar, effectively isolating the peninsula from the rest of the world.
Realistically, what interest would Qatar have had in promulgating the words of Al Thani in order to antagonize Riyadh and Abu Dhabi? Even if the Emir had made such remarks, Doha would certainly not have given them to QNA to publish on its website. If it was not a cyber-attack, it was certainly a miscalculation on Doha’s part or, worse, possibly internal sabotage to damage the Al Thani family.
To explain the dynamics that have officially created this unprecedented situation, it is necessary to sift through the facts in order to discern reality from fiction.
There is no difference between Saudi Arabia and Qatar
The Saudi charge that Qatar supports terrorism is well supported by the facts, Doha having long supported terrorist groups in North Africa and the Middle East, from Libya to Syria through to Egypt and Iraq. The problem is that the one throwing the charge, Saudi Arabia, is as guilty of it as is the accused. Both countries have provided the financial backing for much of the extremism that has been infesting the globe for decades. The Saudi royal family is the ultimate expression of the Wahhabi heresy that historically corresponds to the ideology of al Qaeda. Riyadh’s support for terrorist organizations was complemented by the US neoconservative strategy designed to destabilize Afghanistan in the context of anti-USSR geopolitics, as admitted by the recently deceased Zbigniew Brzezinski.
The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has deep roots and affects not only the ideological difference between Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood, but also the increased religious tolerance of Doha as opposed to the ideological intransigence of Riyadh.
Qatar, through the Muslim Brotherhood, has supported the Arab Spring that deposed Mubarak and placed Morsi in charge of Egypt, creating in the process strong tensions with the Saudis. Riyadh supported al Sisi to remedy the situation in Egypt, financing the coup that sent Morsi to jail. In 2014 this prompted a crisis between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, with Qatar’s ambassadors being expelled from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Differences were soon patched up by the convergence of interests in destabilizing Syria and Iraq with extremist terrorism funded by both nations together with Turkey’s important contribution.
The Neocon Zionist and Wahhabi plans
What is interesting to note in connection with the Gulf crisis is the change in strategy in recent months by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Washington’s plan, shared by Tel Aviv and supported by Riyadh, is to pin the blame for sponsoring international terrorism on Tehran and Doha, fingering Qatar as the key financier of Hamas, al Qaeda and Daesh. The reason and purpose behind this are manifold.
The problem of Islamic terrorism has become a subject of focused attention for European and American citizens because of frequent attacks. Security agencies are incapable of preventing terrorist attacks from the same elements they have for years funded and supported as part of their anti-Iranian and anti-Syrian strategy. The difficulties faced by secret services in halting such attacks (as opposed to rogue secret services who aid terrorist networks a la Operation Gladio) have made people question.
Citizens, increasingly frightened and angry with their governments for the lack of security, are beginning to realize that the extremists receive their financial support from the Gulf countries, who are known to be in business with many European capitals. The last thing that the governments of France, Italy, Germany, the UK and the US want is the revelation that they are in league with Islamic terrorism for geopolitical purposes. The consequences would be disastrous for the already fragile credibility of the West.
Further confirmation of this strategy to gang up on Qatar can be seen in the economic field. S&P downgraded the credit rating of Qatar a short time ago to AA-, setting the stage for a further downgrade that could have important implications for the future economic stability of the emirate.
Trump and other leaders of the G7 seem to have made up their minds, agreeing with Saudi wishes, heaping on Qatar all the blame for Islamic terrorism. The US administration, more eagerly than its European vassals, also insists on including Tehran in the charge of state sponsors of terrorism. For Washington, the aim is to curtail covert Western support for terrorism, all the more urgent given the worsening state of affairs in Europe. Politicians from the Old Continent understand that it is fundamental for a culprit to be found before being accused of being unable to stop Islamist terrorism. It is a desperate exit strategy that aims to attribute primary blame to Qatar and secondary blame to Iran.
Europeans are more reluctant to endorse this vision, given the possible trade opportunities for the European private sector in Iran following the removal of sanctions. It is even possible that some European leaders are opposed to Trump’s idea, probably discussed during the G7 in Italy, given Qatar’s billions of investment poured into the dying European economy.
Israel has officially maintained a neutral position concerning the Arab Spring, benefiting from the chaos in the region and the weakening of geopolitical opponents like Syria and Egypt. Qatar’s support for Hamas, Israel’s historic enemy, is a factor that has contributed to Tel Aviv’s support for Riyadh’s manoeuvres against Doha.
The Saudis, on the other hand, have multiple reasons for attacking Qatar. Firstly, it brings Doha’s foreign policy back into line after showing leanings towards Tehran. Secondly, it aims to incorporate Qatar in order to absorb its enormous financial resources, as an extreme measure to help solve Saudi Arabia’s disastrous economic situation.
Chaos as a means of preserving global hegemony
Behind a convergence of convenience involving the triumvirate of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar lies a well-outlined project of preventing Tehran from becoming a regional hegemon. The Saudis regard Iran as a heretical nation with regard to Islam and have always promoted policies against Tehran. Israel considers Iran the only real danger in the region as it is also a military powerhouse like Israel. As for the United States, the main objective is to mediate a diplomatic rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which is needed for the two nations to officially develop a military alliance against Tehran. The final goal is the creation of an Arab NATO to contain Iran, mirroring NATO’s stance towards the Russian Federation.
Source: Iran Focus
The fault lies in Qatar.
Washington sees only one possible way to at once allay the concerns of her European allies suffering an onslaught of Islamist attacks while simultaneously giving the impression to a domestic audience of fighting extremists. It plans to do this by entering into a major agreement with the two nations closest to Islamist terrorism – Israel and Saudi Arabia – while blaming a third terrorist-supporting nation for all the terrorism -Qatar. Of course the weakest and strategically least relevant of these three countries is Qatar.
The real challenge: Unipolarity vs. Multipolarity.
The most salient point in this story is the contrast between the new multipolar order and the American unipolar world order. Qatar, thanks to its enormous financial resources, has maintained high-level contacts with a wide variety of countries that are not necessarily allied to Riyadh.
From the point of view of energy, Qatar is the region’s second power after Riyadh, getting 90% of its revenue from exports of liquefied natural gas from the world’s largest deposit that is shared with Iran. In the case of relations with Moscow, the problem is not significant given the relations between Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation. For example, Qatar has recently injected capital into Rosneft by acquiring a large share of stocks. Qatar foreign minister meet with Lavrov in Moscow a couple of days ago discussing how to deescalate tensions but also reaffirming the importance of relations between Doha and Moscow. Qatar, on the back of its economic wealth, has expanded its political horizons by moving away from Riyadh, infuriating Washington and Tel Aviv.
The strengthening of the Iranian position in the region was achieved thanks to two main factors, namely the victories in the Syrian war and the agreement with the Obama administration over Iranian nuclear power. This rehabilitation of Iran on the international scene following the signing of the agreement slowly led Doha to advance back-channel dialogue with Tehran to reach a compromise, especially in relation to the exploitation of the South Pars / North Dome gas field. About three months ago, Qatar removed the moratorium on exploiting the field and carried out dialogue with Iran over its development. It seems that an agreement has been reached between Qatar and Iran for the future construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to the Mediterranean or Turkey that will also carry Qatari gas to Europe. In exchange, Doha’s ending of support for terrorism has been demanded, openly contravening Saudi and American directives to destroy Syria.
The Saudis have bet all their chips on the continuation of American hegemony. They prefer to please the United States by avoiding the sale of oil to China in yuan, and are consequently paying the price, with China buying more and more oil from Angola and Russia instead. Moscow Central Bank has even opened a bank branch in Shanghai to convert yuan into gold, creating something that resembles the US dollar gold standard of yesteryear.
In Yemen, Riyadh has compromised its future by squandering huge amounts of wealth, with the only thing to show for it being a pending military defeat at the hands of the poorest Arab country on the planet. The collapse of the price of oil has only exacerbated these difficulties. Qatar has avoided these problems by virtue of having huge gas reserves as well as a somewhat more diversified foreign policy than Riyadh. For the Saudis, placing under their control the world’s largest gas reserve, as well as an obscene amount of cash, would offer the opportunity of at least recovering in part the huge losses experienced recently.
In this bloody game, Qatar is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the mainstream media’s coverage of the events leaves us with little doubts as to what the future for Doha will be. CNN’s interview with the Qatari ambassador to the United States represented a rare example of journalistic integrity when the ambassador was embarrassed by the CNN host’s airing accusations of Qatar’s support for terrorists.
Neocon Deep State Vs Neoliberal Deep State
The fratricidal war within the US deep state also affects the Middle East, especially in the clash between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It has long been known that Huma Abedin has deep ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, as did the previous American administration as well as Hillary Clinton. This proximity has had repercussions on the relationship between Obama and the Sunni countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
Until a few months ago, Washington was full of rumours about alleged lobbying efforts by former Trump adviser Michael Flynn on behalf of Erdogan. Considering that the former general was fired, this could be an important indicator of Trump’s position on Qatar, as the Turkish President is very close to the Muslim Brotherhood, a Doha-backed ideological movement. Flynn could have been fired by Trump for his close indirect relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The mainstream media close to the Clinton/Obama clan may have used the alleged links between Flynn and Russia to obscure the hidden links between Washington and the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other hand, the evidence of collusion between the Muslim Brotherhood and Washington dates even before 2010, with Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009 and the resulting Arab springs, all funded by Qatar via the Muslim Brotherhood, with Washington’s blessing. The consequences of those actions are well known, having increased the chaos in the region, forced a greater US presence in the Middle East, and contributed to increasing synergies between the Shiite axis in response to terrorist aggression.
In this context, Turkey backed the same terrorist groups as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the abortive July 2016 coup only served to strengthen the takeover of power by Erdogan and the Muslim Brotherhood faction supporting him. Even today the consequences of the coup reverberate in the region, with the alliance between Ankara and Doha recently strengthened with the presence of Turkish troops in Qatar. Another element not to underestimate was Iran’s attitude towards Ankara following the failed coup d’état, with Tehran declaring its solidarity with Ankara.
The strategic choices of previous administrations in the Middle East were disastrous in every respect. They strengthened enemies and weakened historic allies. No wonder Trump has decided to hit the rewind button, placing strong confidence in the two main allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Trump and the deep-state faction loyal to him aims to create an Arab NATO able to confront Iran in its own right, freeing Washington from a constant presence in the Middle East. The United States is focussed on two key factors in this strategy, namely the sale of Saudi oil in US dollars, and the sale of weapons to US allies to keep its military-industrial complex happy. These goals coincide with what happened recently in the emirates with Trump’s visit. The United States and Saudi Arabia have signed agreements worth over 350 billion dollars. Saudi Arabia strongly supports the creation of an Arab NATO. The organization would make official Tehran’s role as the greatest danger for the entire region. Moreover, the project of an Arab NATO would suit Israel fine, as it hates Tehran.
For the US deep state, or at least part of it, the most urgent strategy concerns the transfer of American forces in terms of presence and focus, from the Middle East and Europe to Asia in order to face the main challenge of the future, namely China’s intention to dominate the Asian region. What is happening in the Philippines with Daesh, which the author wrote about last week, is simply the continuation of a wider strategy that also affects the Saudi-Qatar conflict.
With Obama and the ruling Democrats, much attention had been paid to the issue of human rights. In particular, the component of the deep state close to the Clinton/Obama clan embraced the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to subvert power in the Middle Eastern region through the Arab Spring. The approach of neoconservatives and neoliberals towards hegemony is very different and shows conflicting strategies, highlighting the diversity between the two souls of the US deep state that has long been battling each other.
On one hand, the neoliberal/human-rights clan is very close to Obama and Clinton as well as supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar indirectly. Neoconservatives, however, are historically more aligned with Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of whom seem to support Trump in order to make the US role in the Middle East less central, thanks to an Arabian NATO that would free the US up to shift its attention to Asia by delegating regional control to Riyadh and Tel Aviv.
In this regard, the nuclear agreement between the Obama administration and Tehran is explained. The neoliberals hoped to see Iranian revolts in the wake of the Arab Spring, leading to the overthrowing of the regime and the ushering in of democracy. Neoliberal human-rights interventionists abuse the word democracy, wielding it as a baton. The results of these efforts can be seen in the disasters in Libya and Syria. Paradoxically, Obama and Clinton’s strategy has backfired on Washington, since Iran, thanks to the nuclear agreement, has increased its weight in the region, forcing the Neocon-Saudi-Zionist faction to try to sabotage it in any way.
Qatar is at a crossroads. Acquiescing to Saudi pressure means falling into line and abandoning its dalliance with the multipolar world order. The fate of Doha is probably already determined, with Iran and Russia hardly desirous of becoming too much involved in the sanguinary game. A likely outcome is that the Al Thani family will in the end acquiesce to Saudi demands after resisting thanks to foreign partners help. What is interesting to note is that the situation in Washington has deteriorated to such an extent that even Washington’s historic allies are fighting each other.
Iran, Russia and China, assisting Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, have created the necessary conditions to end Middle-Eastern destabilization, even prompting an internal crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council. The bet that Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Washington embarked on with the aggression against Doha could prove to be an unforgivable strategic error, even leading to the end of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the weakening of the anti-Iran coalition in the region.
If Qatar should decide to resist Saudi pressure, which is only possible with the covert support of Russia, China and Iran, it is likely that the Syrian war has its days numbered. This is not to mention the fact that such an outcome would provide Turkey with an even easier path to transition into the Eurasian alliance.
Should Doha decide to oppose the demands of Riyadh (their economic capacity is certainly not lacking), it will be up to Russia, Iran and China to decide whether to risk supporting Qatar against Saudi Arabia in order to stabilize the region. The hostility of the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel hold towards Qatar are warning signs for the Eurasian bloc, already facing many obstacles in the world as it is.
Despite this, Tehran and Moscow are providing and offering Qatar’s first needed goods in terms of food and medicine. Iran is also opening its own airspace to Doha-based companies. Iran, in addition to being a nation usually ready to help when demanded, sees the opportunity to continue the destruction of the axis opposed to it. An overall assessment (In Astana at the SCO meeting?) will be needed to determine which strategy is best to follow. Above all it will be necessary to understand how Qatar will want to proceed in this unprecedented crisis in the Gulf region.
Even in Syria, the terrorist groups funded by the monarchies and Turkey are fighting each other, reflecting the divisions and tensions within the Gulf. It is only a matter of time before the conflicts between various organizations extends to other places in Syria, leading to the collapse of the opposition groups. In light of these developments, it appears that Iran and Syria have proposed to Qatar that they switch from supporting terrorism and instead cooperate in the reconstruction of Syria with Chinese and Iranian partners. Receiving credible responses to such a proposition is impossible, but following dialogue between Doha and Tehran on the development of the North Pars Gas Field, one cannot rule out that an agreement could be reached in Syria in the medium term, which would also bring enormous benefits to Doha as well as to Damascus and Tehran.
The American century is rapidly coming to an end. Terrorists are biting their masters’ hands and the vassals are rebelling. The unipolar world order that defers to the United States is rapidly disappearing, and the consequences are being felt in many areas of the world.
Federico Pieraccini is an independent freelance writer specialized in international affairs, conflicts, politics and strategies.
Featured image: Strategic Culture Foundation