I told you recently that Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia was the prelude to a grand peace deal in the Middle East. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and blame them for sponsoring terrorism is part of that process.
It’s also completely disingenuous.
It’s well known that Qatar and Saudi Arabia were the biggest sponsors of ISIS in Syria for the twin goal of ending the secular Assad regime and building a gas pipeline into Southern Europe. So, at first glance this looks like an odd move by the Saudis, who led this push against Qatar.
The situation, as always, is far more nuanced than that.
The official reason is quite likely the biggest Pinocchio moment in the recent geopolitical history: Qatar has been a major sponsor of terrorism with Iran. Now, they have been a sponsor of terrorism, but it has been, like I said, alongside the Saudis. Qatar’s relationship with Iran is in no way that close.
In fact, by any rational review of the facts, Iran, through its actions in Syria and Iraq, have been one of the leaders in the fight against terrorism sponsored by the Saudis and Qataris to date.
And what’s worse is that former Secretary of State and Consummate Delusionist Hillary Clinton knew about this in 2014. This was leaked this morning by Wikileaks in response to the Saudi announcement.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) June 5, 2017
With the Syria plan collapsing in the face of Russia’s outmaneuvering all of Syria’s enemies over nearly two years now, Qatar was looking for new opportunities to expand its business. It began making overtures to Iran with Qatari Emir meeting recently with Iranian President Rouhani.
On the table would be a path for them to sell gas to southern Europe via Iran as part of any settlement of the Syrian conflict. Iran’s role will be repaid with that access. And this is something the Saudis are not taking lying down.
Moreover, Qatar has been the only GCC member to support the Palestinians while the Saudis have been in a de facto alliance with Israel for years. Remember, that alliance is what Trump was using to craft an Arab NATO alliance to oppose Iran while being the guarantor of its good behavior.
On the other side, Russia’s role is the guarantor of Iran’s (and Turkey’s, Iraq’s and Hezbollah’s) behavior. The possibility then exists for crafting a Mid-East peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians and a grand bargain region-wide.
Qatar, in this new emerging Arab order, is the odd duck out. And this move by the Saudis is to get Qatar to knuckle under. Egypt’s going along with the Saudis is a big tell, going along begrudgingly. One has to wonder what Trump offered them while in Riyadh.
At this point it is too early to tell what happens next. As Moon of Alabama points out, half of Qatar’s food crosses the border with Saudi Arabia. Turkey and Iran could step up food exports to cover that. Both economies could use the export jolt.
But, the biggest wildcard is the U.S. Forward Command Center in Qatar which stations 10,000 U.S. troops. If this move to isolate Qatar from cozying up to Iran is coming from Trump and his team, then those troops exist as a ready-made palace coup in Doha.
Likely, Qatar doesn’t have the resources to hold out against this isolation and will eventually sue for peace with the Saudis. I’m sure that’s what Prince Mohammed bin Salman is thinking.
But, that said, the Saudis are in an existential economic crisis. Their oil market share is being squeezed on all sides, most notably by their ‘benefactor’ Donald Trump. They’re budget deficit is persistent and they cannot continue pumping at sub-$50 per barrel and maintain a war in Yemen. The proposed austerity cuts to the state budget has resulted in increased unrest, especially in the east where both the oil fields and the highest concentration of Shi’ites live.
By isolating Qatar, the Saudis, as odious as they are, are defining the sides in this new Arab world. And this is something that I expect Trump and Putin, behind the scenes, have been pushing for, along with, as Trump made clear in his speech two weeks ago, that terrorism and internecine fighting amongst the Arabs sects has to end.
Saudi Arabia hosting that speech tells you everything you need to know about where their future lies. Qatar is being turned into the scapegoat for the Arab world’s crimes. And the question remains where will they turn? Or, more importantly, where will they be allowed to turn.
But, no matter where they turn, further support of radical Wahabi terrorism has to end. The Saudis just told them the game is over to the West and Iran (and Russia) won’t stand for it to the east.
And that, is how the beginnings of de-escalation around the region begins.