The first shock the Arab world experienced as a result of the crisis over Qatar has been overcome. Throughout last week, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates kept “whipping” their former partner but this week, the sides have shown some mood for a compromise (1).
Some sources report that the crisis will be settled by the end of Ramadan (June 26) but neither Qatar nor its castigators are showing any wish to take the first step. Doha seems to be more committed to settle the problem than Riyadh, who continues speaking the language of ultimatums.
Their key ultimatums are to stop balancing between Iran and its geopolitical enemies and to cut ties with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The key problem is that the “terrorist number 1” (according to Saudi Arabia and its allies), the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Yusuf al-Qaradawi is residing in Qatar.
The world was shocked to hear the Saudis calling Hamas a terrorist group. Arab social networks are protesting that Hamas is not a “terrorist organization” but a “resistance movement” and are warning the Saudis that this situation benefits the enemies of Palestine and the whole of the Arab world. And one of those enemies is Israel. The Saudis’ equally negative attitude towards Hezbollah and Hamas has given the Qataris a lot of support in the Arab world. Most Arabs see that Doha is more sensible and scrupulous in its ties while Riyadh continues its contacts with their key enemy, Tel Aviv.
Israel is trying to keep balance and has assured the world that this new Arab crisis will not lead to its new operation in the Gaza Strip. Earlier, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the Israelis would like to avoid any crisis in that region as a new conflict with local Hamas might have a high price for them. But now that the Arab world has revised its attitude towards Hamas, the Israelis may revise the military status quo in the Gaza Strip.
Egypt has made things even worse for the Gaza Strip as it has cut all contacts with Hamas. Such an attitude by Egypt and Saudi Arabia is giving Israel more confidence. The only obstacle here is Turkey, whom Saudi Arabia cannot afford treating as it is treating Qatar. The Turks are not going to spoil their relations with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, especially as the latter’s Syrian unit consists of pro-Turkish moderate oppositionists.
But Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood are not the key concern of the Israelis. Their main target is Iran and their main goal is to set the Arab world against that country. This is why the main slogan of the Israeli authorities today is “The Iranians did it!” This crisis will curb the plan of Israel and its ally, the United States, to form a wide anti-Iranian Arab coalition – a kind of an Arab NATO. So, this crisis benefits not as much Israel as it benefits Iran.
The Iranians are beginning to win this chess game, particularly, by offering alternatives to the Gulf region’s security projects. On June 13, before the last Oslo Forum, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that it is absolutely imperative to establish a permanent mechanism for consultation, conversation and conflict resolution in our region, using some variation of the Helsinki approach. "I think it worked at the height of the Cold War here in Europe, it should work (for the Middle East too)," he added.
According to Zarif, Iran has been calling for a dialogue in the Middle East for already 30 years. He is confident that had the region had an efficient security mechanism, Iraq’s attack on Kuwait in 1990 would have been prevented.
Iran has taken Qatar’s side in this crisis and it was not a surprise. The Iranians have sent food to Doha, The Qatari royal family will not forget this support. Nor will it forget the enmity shown by the Saudi royal family and the defense provided by the Turkish government. The Turks said that they were ready to guarantee Qatar’s security and would send a military contingent there. This will pave the wave for the project to open a Turkish air base in Qatar. According to the agreement signed in 2014, Turkey will deploy 500-600 soldiers in Qatar and may enlarge this force to 5,000-6,000 if need be. On top of this, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Saudi Arabia to stop its sanctions against Qatar and added that brotherly Islamic states had not to treat each other in such a way.
The Pakistanis displayed positive neutrality. They have huge gas contracts with the Qataris and even though they have sent troops to Qatar unlike the Turks did, they are taking no moves against Doha.
The crisis has shown that the Saudis, who seek to isolate Iran, have proved to be unable to isolate a tiny emirate. This means that their Arab NATO project is just a mere name.
Neither the Americans nor the Israelis are interested in further confrontation in the Arab world as this would mean an end to their anti-Iran plans, so, they will certainly try to help the sides to come to terms.
The Pentagon is also concerned that the Gulf air bases, particularly, Qatar-based, Al Udeid, are its key foothold against ISIL (2). Saudi Arabia’s move may impede the Americans’ campaign against terrorism in the Middle East. No coincidence that on June 12, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis called on the sides to find a compromise.
The Americans’ key concern is that they may be blamed by the Arab world for being counterproductive. According to experts, Donald Trump’s “saber dance” in Riyadh may have been one of the causes of the crisis over Qatar.
The Saudis interpreted Trump’s signals as a kind of a carte blanche. But, according to U.S. officials, their move was an unpleasant surprise for the White House. So, it turns out that the Americans’ Middle East allies have run wild and are making moves that are not good for both the Arab world’s security and the United States’ reputation.
So, the only way for the Americans to save their face is to urge the conflicting sides to settle their dispute. Very soon, their Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is to visit the region to force the sides into peace by the end of Ramadan.
(1) On June 13, the United Arab Emirates allowed air companies from third states to use its air and airports for flights to and from Qatar. The same is true for charter flights by non-Qatari air companies.
(2) Al Udeid is the United States’ biggest air base in the Middle East and CENTCOM’s key headquarters in the region. It hosts as many as 10,000 U.S. soldiers and is used as a springboard for the Americans’ operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
EADaily’s Middle East Bureau