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The crisis over Qatar explained(1): What has happened and the role of the US foreign policy

Who is behind the Qatari crisis? Chaos as a strategy?

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  • The Origins of the Qatari crisis: What has happened.

Deep in the Gulf waters between Qatar and Iran lies the world’s largest gas field, a 9,700-sq-km expanse that holds at least 43 trillion cubic metres of gas reserves.

Qatar’s southern portion is known as North Field, while Iran’s slice to the north is called South Pars. The two countries share exploration rights in the area, and it is one of many ties that bind them.

The past few days in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been dramatic.A longstanding war of words between Saudi Arabia and its oil and gas-rich neighbor Qatar has just exploded into open diplomatic warfare, threatening the US-led fight against ISIS and setting off a new wave of instability in the Gulf region.

Doha’s relationship with Tehran has been put to a new test on Monday, after Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia led four other countries in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member of undermining security in the region by siding with Iran, among other actions. Riyadh also said “authorities in Doha” have supported the Iran-backed Houthi armed group in Yemen. This despite Qatar’s deployment of an estimated 1,000 troops to support the two-year Saudi-led campaign there, Al-Jazeera reports

map block qatar allies
Countries blocked Qatar:Egypt, Libya’s Eastern Government, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen, Maldives, Bahrain

The new rift in the Persian Gulf is in and of itself a big deal — it’s already being interpreted by some observers as the biggest diplomatic crisis in the region since the Gulf War in 1991.

A ticker on Qatar News Agency attributed controversial statements about US President Donald Trump, Iran, Israel and Hamas to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The news agency’s Twitter feed also quoted Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, announcing Doha’s decision to withdraw its ambassadors from Egypt and most GCC states.

On Monday, Saudi Arabia and three of its biggest allies — Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain — all announced that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, as well as suspending air, land, and sea travel to and from the country. The move came after Riyadh accused Qatar of backing radical Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Since then, Libya, Yemen, and the Maldives have also joined the diplomatic boycott.

Qatar swiftly disavowed the article as fake news manufactured by hackers, but Saudi and its friends were unconvinced. Then Sheikh Tamim made things even worse when a few days later he called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to congratulate him on his reelection — a clear act of defiance against Saudi’s hawkish stance on Iran.And then ISIS claims to carry out terror attacks that kill 12 people in Tehran. Thereafter  Iran’s infamous Revolutionary Guards accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the twin terrorist attacks in Tehran,  and have vowed “revenge” even if ISIS has claimed responsability.

Iran has been pursuing a wedge policy vis-à-vis Qatar and its fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). While the nascent “Arab NATO” is nominally designed to combat the threat posed by the Islamic State and groups like it, many in Iran view it as an attempt to contain and isolate Tehran. “Wedging” is when a state breaks up or divides an alliance, preventing its isolation and reducing the number of enemies it is facing.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said there was a need for “transparent dialogue and diplomacy”, adding: “No country in the region will benefit from the heightened tension.”

  • Qatar and Terrorism support in the Middle East

It is true that Qatar, like Saudi Arabia, can be a troublesome partner, but Saudi Arabia’s complaint about Qatar and terrorism is hypocritical. Qatar has long been accused of funneling arms and money to radical groups in Syria, Libya and other Arab countries. And much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia and the current Egyptian government, it supported the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Arab Spring.

Qatar is also accused of having links to a group formerly known as the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.
Everyone should know or remember that Al-Jazeera, Qatar’s english channels the same put out two interviews with the leader of the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria  in an obvious attempt to persuade the Americans that his group was just the kind of “moderate” outfit the Americans should support in Syria’s war.

More recently, according to FT, Saudi Arabia was infuriated by a complicated ransom deal Qatar did in April to secure the release of nearly 30 prominent Qatari citizens held in Iraq.The terms of that deal are unknown, but both Iran and jihadist groups in Syria are reported to have been beneficiaries.

According to the FT, the catalyst that forced the Saudis and their allies to unveil the cut in diplomatic and economic ties, is that Qatar allegedly paid up to $1 billion to Iran and al-Qaeda affiliates “to release members of the Gulf state’s royal family who were kidnapped in Iraq while on a hunting trip, according to people involved in the hostage deal“; the secret deal was allegedly one of the triggers behind Gulf states’ dramatic decision to cut ties with Doha.

The details of the payoff: “around $700m was paid both to Iranian figures and the regional Shia militias they support, according to regional government officials. They added that $200m to $300m went to Islamist groups in Syria, most of that to Tahrir al-Sham, a group with links to al-Qaeda.

But Saudi Arabia also funded terrorism, a fact that Mr. Trump, seduced by royal flattery, chose to ignore. Instead, he made common cause with Saudi Arabia against its perceived adversaries — Iran, the main enemy, and Qatar, faulted for supporting terrorism and Iran’s regional ambitions.

A far wiser course would have been to seek a balance between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. That he did not is one more in a string of bad decisions that have unnerved allies and partners.
For at least a decade, the multimillion-dollar Captagon ( jihadist drug) trade has been a fixture of the Middle East’s black markets. It involves everyone : from Bulgarian and Syrian gangs, to Hezbollah, to members of the Saudi royal family. Two years ago the Lebanese police arrested Saudi prince Abdel Mohsen Bin Walid Bin Abdulaziz at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport for allegedly trying to smuggle 40 suitcases full of Captagon (along with some cocaine) to Riyadh aboard a private jet.

In a leaked email sent on August 17, 2014 by Hillary Clinton to her current campaign manager, John Podesta, who back then was counselor to Barack Obama, she admitted that Qatar and Saudi Arabia “are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

On one hand, the US knows Qatar is a large source of support and funding for groups it considers to be terrorist organizations, like Hamas, or adversaries, like the Muslim Brotherhood.Wealthy individuals in the country are believed to have made donations and the government has given money and weapons to hardline Islamist groups in Syria. .

The SPA statement accused Qatar of backing these groups, as well as the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood – banned in Gulf countries as a terrorist organisation – and that it “promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly”.

Saudi Arabia itself is a key backer of Islamist rebels, including hardline jihadist groups, in Syria.But on the other hand, it has also been willing to allow the Pentagon to operate bases in its territory and to serve as an intermediary between Washington and Islamist groups across the region. To take one high-profile example, Qatar helped broker the deal with the Taliban that won the release of the imprisoned US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

For the past few years, Qatar has been playing both sides Al-Monitor reports. On the one hand, it sat down with the other Gulf states, coordinated positions and maintained extensive relations with them, including intelligence cooperation. At the same time, it continued to fund the Muslim Brotherhood around the world, keep Hamas above water in Gaza, support incitement and foment passions throughout the Middle East through Al Jazeera and “dance at all the weddings.” No more. The Saudis and Egyptians grew fed up with the situation and declared diplomatic war.

  • What’s the role of the United States?

 

The former secretary of state, once accused of complicity in US “war crimes” in Latin America and south-east Asia, has been a key advisor to Trump in negotiating US relations with Russia and China during the last months. Donald Trump met with “Henry” some days before his trip to the Middle East.

From Saudi Arabia, King Salman Ibn Abd al-Aziz was equally enthusiastic about Trump’s call to form a new front against Iran. Now, Qatar is the first to feel the consequences of this new development.

 

There is, of course, George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq which Kissinger supported. Furthermore, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger pushed for the 1974 events in Cyprus, the coup in Chile and the coup in Turkey in 1980, his Syrian strategy (he admitted that he never liked the Assad family) and the list is looong.

In early 1974, for instance, his so-called shuttle diplomacy helped deescalate the tensions that had led to the previous year’s Arab-Israeli War. At the same time, however, it noted a Congressional investigation into his sacrifice of the Kurds.

Less well known is the way in which Kissinger’s policies toward Iran and Saudi Arabia accelerated the radicalization in the region, how step by catastrophic step he laid the groundwork for the region’s spiraling crises of the present moment.

 According to Qatar’s daily newspaper the Peninsula,officials with Donald Trump’s transition team told Eli Lake ,( newspaper’s journalist) that Kissinger has spent several hours since the election advising incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn and his team. He’s also putting his network in place. He recommended his former assistant, K.T. McFarland, to be Flynn’s deputy, and urged Trump to nominate Rex Tillerson, the chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, as his secretary of state. Kissinger is one of the few people in Trump’s orbit who can get him on the phone whenever he wants, according to one transition adviser.

Of course “Henry” didn’t appreciate this opinion.

However, the FBI has sent a team of investigators to Qatar because they believe that Russian hackers are responsible for planting a fake news report that has led to the crisis in which all diplomatic ties to Qatar have been severed by Saudi Arabia and numerous other Gulf nations, according to a CNN report. The Qatar News Agency has been offline since the alleged hack occurred and it’s not clear if there was only one fake story planted, multiple, or any at all.

“Intelligence gathered by the U.S. security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion first reported by the Qatari government two weeks ago, US officials say. Qatar hosts one of the largest U.S. military bases in the region,” CNN reported.

Featured Image credit: @Carlos Latuff

Read: Part 2

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