New tension rises in Middle East: The Qatari crisis and international reaction

Early in the morning of 5 June, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – followed later in the morning by the internationally recognized Yemeni government, and other countries – cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, denouncing that Arab Emirate of being supporting terrorism and of maintaining relations with Iran.

This diplomatic move by these countries opens the stage to an unexpected crisis in a crucial area of the world. Qatari citizens have been intimated to leave the countries that cut ties with the Arab Emirate within 14 days, i.e., until 19 June; on the other hand, the countries that cut relations with Qatar prohibited to their citizens to move to that country. Because of the timing of the severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar, it is highly possible that this diplomatic move has been planned in concert by the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council leaded by the Kingdom of the Saud.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia: the reasons of the crisis

Saudi diplomacy stated that the reasons for this cut of diplomatic ties with Qatar regard its attempts to meddle in Saudi internal issues ‘infringing its sovereignty’; furthermore, Saudi government clearly assessed that Qatar hosted “various terrorist and sectarian groups” affiliated with ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. An important aspect underlined by Saudi diplomacy is that Qatar continues to support ‘the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups in the governorate of Qatif of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Bahrain’ through financing and sheltering extremists in its territory. Finally, it is reported that Qatar actively supported the Al-Houthi militias in Yemen, contributing to destabilize the Gulf countries. 

Qatari foreign ministry promptly replied that the Emirate is victim of a ‘campaign of lies’, denying all the accusations. Nonetheless, this is not the first time that the Arab Emirate has been accused of supporting terrorist groups. Already in 2014, Qatar’s Emir Tamim Al-Thani denied this kind of accusations; however, it has been stated that Qatar, if not directly financing terrorist groups such Al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS and Hamas, is at least compliant towards private financing of extremists. Regarding Al-Qaeda in Iraq, it has been said that it could have been a story of a billion-dollar ransom paid by Qatari royal family to Al-Qaeda to trigger the retaliation by the most of the gulf countries culminated in the severing of diplomatic ties.

Reactions to the Qatari crisis: Turkey, Russia, USA, Iran

Strategically, the Emirate of Qatar is a central spot in the Arab Gulf, controlling the entrance of the Hormuz Strait and hosting important military bases used by the US Air Force to fight terrorism in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. The diplomatic crisis that rose in that Emirate has been commented by several countries, especially the Powers involved in the complicated state of affairs in Middle East.

One of the first reaction to the crisis was Turkey’s. Turkish government’s authorities had phone calls with Qatar’s, Saudi’s, Kuwait’s, and Russia’s authorities and invited them to lower the tension to keep stability and security in the area. Because of the good relations that Turkey has with most of the countries involved in the crisis, it is possible that Istanbul could play the role of mediator for future talks between Qatar and the other Arab countries.

Regarding Russia, the reaction by foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is consistent with protocol in case such diplomatic crisis. Mr. Lavrov had a telephone call with his Qatari counterpart in which he stated his concern about the new tensions rising in Middle East. Furthermore, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has declined to comment if the Arab states’ decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar may affect the agreements to cut oil production.

USA are clearly affected by this crisis as Qatar hosts the military base of Al-Udeid with 11,000 military personnel and more than 100 aircrafts. US President Trump tweeted twice about the crisis and affirmed that sanctions against Qatar could be ‘the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!’ as Qatar was financing terrorism. Nonetheless, during a visit in Saudi Arabia in May, Mr. Trump stated that relations between Qatar and US were good, making his position towards that Emirate at least unclear. On the other hand, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed that the current crisis will not affect anti-terrorism operations underway; furthermore, Mr. Tillerson invited the countries involved in the crisis ‘to sit down together and address their differences’.

Finally, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian national security and foreign policy parliamentary committee, affirmed that this crisis is a direct consequence of the recent visit of US President Trump in Saudi Arabia and the arms deals signed by the US and the Saud family. Mr. Boroujerdi also said that the intervention of foreign countries cannot be the solution in regional problems.

Qatari flag. Photo by / CC BY 2.0

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Stefano Loi

Research Assistant at CEI-IUL.

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