By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
One may wonder, is there something else beyond Qatar’s “wayward” behavior that the four countries are targeting in their blockade of Qatar?! Is it possible that these countries, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), will end up facing bigger and more sinister prices and commitments than Qatar as a result?!
Is there an indirect American encouragement for these countries to initiate such an adventure, behind which stand US and Israeli agendas to take the fire to the Gulf countries, at a time when these countries have come to believe they are protecting their political and security stability away from the region’s turmoil?!
This article endeavors to analyze the regional, international, and especially the US context of the “sudden” crisis with Qatar. The course of events suggests we are likely to face three different potential dynamics:
First: Tying the Loose Ends of the “Arab Spring”
This is consistent with the notion that the hot issues of the region, engulfed by revolutions, uprisings, and unrest, have run their course, and that the “conditions are ripe” to put a complete end to them, in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya, while preserving the gains of the “counter-revolution” especially in Egypt.
Since the “chronic” Palestinian issue has the “magical” ability to disrupt the situation at any moment, and mobilize the masses against the Israeli occupation, and even against the Arab regimes because of their failures and shortcomings, it is not possible to close these issues without dealing with the Palestinian issue, whether by ending it, or fully containing it.
Therefore, this necessitates, on their part, an attempt to subdue, weaken, and marginalize Hamas inside and outside of Palestine, if not to eliminate its rule and control of Gaza Strip (GS).
Therefore, the logical context of this path explains the behavior of the boycotting countries as an attempt to subdue Qatar and bring it in line with their policies in combating the “Arab Spring” and closing its loose ends, and fighting moderate Islamists who have emerged as leaders of this “Spring.”
The same applies to their policies of pressuring Qatar to close down Al-Jazeera, which has a massive audience in the Arab world, and putting pressure on Hamas, which represents Palestinian resistance and “moderate Islam,” to pave the way for Mahmud ‘Abbas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah, and the peace camp or even prepare the ground for Mohammad Dahlan, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, to take over.
This scenario is consistent with the official Saudi-Emirati behavior vis-à-vis the “Arab Spring,” especially under the late King‘ Abdullah bin ‘Abdul Aziz. While this policy retreated somewhat with the rise of King Salman bin ‘Abdul Aziz to the throne, it seems that the wing supporting this approach in the Saudi establishment has recently restored its momentum and power; esp. with the rising power of Mohammed bin Salman, who is in close relations with Mohammed bin Zayed, the strong man of UAE.
This wing believes that the stability of the Gulf countries is linked to fighting Islamic movements, and to further measures of control and repression of peoples, as well as forging a stronger alliance with the United States, pushing forward with the peace process with Israel, and focusing hostility on Iran.
Second: A New Spot of Tension
This scenario is based on the premise that those who initiated the blockade had miscalculated, as they are unable to control the progression and outcome of the crisis. It also argues that the US had given its implicit green light to implicate them in a quagmire that is hard to emerge from for many years.
Consequently, this scenario predicts that the crisis with Qatar will create a new source of tension in the Gulf heartland. It will become a dangerous path that will bleed the energies, potentials, and wealth of the region, diverting them into the Western and American coffers, while allowing Israel to further consolidate its position in the region and normalize relations with a number of Gulf countries.
Under this scenario, the purpose is not to close the loose ends of the “Arab Spring,” but to create a new one that will further weaken the Arab region, and exacerbate its divisions.
To be sure, the Gulf countries, which have cut relations with Qatar, do not desire such a path, because it would drag them into crises and threats they do not need at this juncture. In their view, the blockade would bring more stability and security, not the opposite. However, those who instigated this crisis cannot control its progression and cannot act in isolation from foreign especially American meddling!!
The plausibility of this path is corroborated by several factors:
1- All the crises in the region that were instigated are yet to be resolved, even those that have lasted for a long time, such as the situation emerging from the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The permanent solutions to these crises have been non-radical, carrying the seeds of their unravelling within them, and cementing sectarian, ethnic, and regional alignments while institutionalizing corruption and weakening the institutions of central governments.
2- Those who advocated the partition of the region in accordance with new maps on sectarian and ethnic foundations, did not exclude the Gulf countries from their quest. The events taking place in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya (and before them in Sudan) requires a serious consideration of the dangers of such plans. There are undeclared US policies pushing in this direction, regardless of official statements.
We recall here the plans by the famed orientalist Bernard Lewis, and the writings of Ralph Peters in the US army magazine in 2006 on Blood Borders, as well as Aluf Benn editor of Haaretz at the start of the Arab uprisings in 2011. These writings not only make references to partitioning the countries ravaged by crisis at present, but also reference the partitioning of the Arabian Peninsula, especially KSA.
3- The US position dealt deceitfully with the crisis, leaving the door open or partially open, making it seem as though the behavior of the blockading countries had an implicit American green light.
The escalation against Qatar began on May 24, only three days after Donald Trump visited KSA. Statements or tweets by the US president were made suggesting he supported the pressures on Qatar, while the US State Department and the traditional political kitchen sought a realistic policy stressing commitment to resolve and contain the crisis. On the following day of the escalation against Qatar (25 May 2017), a bill was put forward in the US Congress for sanctioning countries and institutions that support Hamas, singling out Qatar by name (and Iran).
This behavior reminds us of the implicit signal understood by Saddam Hussein following a statement by the US ambassador to Iraq, which encouraged him to invade Kuwait in 1990. It contains in its folds a desire to encourage local forces to take certain paths with the aim of implicating them, before exploiting that later to advance US strategy in the region.
In the same context, we should bear in mind what was explained by US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, in her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs committee, regarding the Qatar crisis, when she said, “It’s an opportunity to kind of hit on both of them [Qatar & KSA].” (“Advancing U.S. Interests at the United Nations” Hearing, Foreign Affairs Committee, 28/6/2017)
4- The US and Israel stand to gain the most from a protracted Gulf crisis (even without a military confrontation there), with the Gulf countries forced to rely further on the US, allowing the latter and its ally to cement their domination and intervention in the Gulf.
This may lead to “bleeding” the Gulf countries for the longest time possible through weapons deals, and prompt the Gulf countries to normalize relations with Israel as a key gateway to guarantee US support in the game of internal rivalry. This game is added to the game of regional conflict with Iran, which the US is keen to inflame and sustain to serve the same objectives.
Moreover, the US under this scenario will be more able to guarantee the deals agreed with KSA for the next decade to the tune of $460 billion, and to use more effectively the JASTA Act, which primarily seeks to “blackmail” Saudi Arabia.
5- There are signs coming from the UAE suggesting the crisis could last “for years,” as the UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said (The New York Times newspaper, 19 June 2017). He also suggested “a monitoring system…France, Britain, U.S. or Germany could monitor because they have the diplomatic clout and technical know-how,” and he warned that there was a risk Iran and Turkey would try to fill the vacuum caused by the rift.
This statement carries dangerous implications because it invites Western foreign intervention to control Qatar’s behavior in the future, even if Doha abides by the conditions of the blockading countries.
Third: “The Kisses of Noses”
In the Gulf, Habb al-Khushum “the kisses of noses” is a local expression used to mean accord and reconciliation, with differences ending with kisses on the cheeks and noses. This scenario is based on the premise that the four countries’ measures against Qatar were a “crude” and hasty act based on a miscalculation. These countries had expected that the sudden huge pressure they applied would lead to a rapid Qatari “collapse” and compliance with their demands.
However, Qatar’s formidable ability to absorb the shock and calmly manage the crisis, and find alternative very quickly, created confusion in the ranks of the blockading countries.
Although it appeared as though there was an operations room running the blockade, where the measures were coordinated and implemented simultaneously, using the same justifications and triggering the same media attacks without using any sense of gradual escalation usually expected in crises between states, such as summoning ambassadors or specifying demands before implementing measures…; It appeared clear that the blockading countries had a problem determining the plan for the “day after,” and specifying options and scenarios of the “shock and awe approach” fails.
One proof of this is that these countries, more than two weeks after cutting off ties to Qatar, failed to develop a convincing list of grievances against Qatar, and to specify their demands and conditions, except after 18 days (on 23/6/2017). Their case appeared muddled, embarrassing, and exposed to everyone, and its allegations against Qatar appeared without substance.
Indeed, how do Arab countries wage such a “bone-breaking” battle with a sisterly Arab country without knowing what they want it to do?!! Even the US State Department has expressed its astonishment over the lack of specific demands made against Qatar. Later, KSA, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt have since issued a 13-point list of demands including the closure of Al-Jazeera and a Turkish military base in Qatar, and the reduction of diplomatic relations with Iran.
The list of terror put together by the four countries, which included 59 individuals and 12 organizations, was pathetic…; There was no evidence adduced, and many of the entities and names are not linked to Qatar in any way, while the list itself violates many international standards regarding the definition of “terrorism.”
On the other hand, the UAE now punishes anyone expressing sympathy with Qatar with a prison sentence of up to 15 years. This reflects concerns of possible popular reactions if the public is left with real freedom to express its views, especially as the majority of the Arab public opinion seems to be sympathetic with Qatar because of the lack of anything that condemns it.
Furthermore, statements by the Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubair against Hamas helped Qatar’s case, in that it appeared that the real agenda behind the blockade targets the Palestinian resistance, which is widely popular and respected among Arab people.
In other words, the crisis is linked to a Saudi-Emirati misplaced assessment and the row with Qatar can be contained with internal Gulf arrangements, by finding compromise solutions to save face for the concerned parties.
It seems that Qatar’s ability to take the initiative and reject negotiations without lifting the blockade, and using legal channels to compensate the damages resulting from the anti-Qatar measures… all serve this scenario. For the blockading countries lost the ability to maintain momentum and pressure.
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Finally, the escalation of the crisis with Qatar does not help the interests of the blockading countries, and will have a negative impact on their popularity and the stability of the region. It also opens the door wide to foreign intervention—especially a US one—which will entail more dangers to the wealth and resources of the region and place them under increasing US dominance. For this reason, calm and coolheaded negotiations and resolving the problem within the internal Arab Gulf house is the best course of action, especially in the current tumultuous situation in the Arab region.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 5/7/2017