Monday, June 05, 2017

Another Middle East Crisis

Qatar, which will host the 2022 football World Cup. Qatar is also home to the al-Udeid Air Base, which is head-quarters to the US military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops. Qatar is the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and has extensive air and banking net-work. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of destabilising the region. The countries say Qatar is supporting terrorist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. “Qatar-bashing” articles suggest that an orchestrated campaign is underway to discredit Doha regionally but also — crucially — in the eyes of the Trump administration.

Speaking to Doha News, expert Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen said the pressure is increasing on Emir Sheikh Tamim and a coup attempt could be afoot. Ulrichsen, who is a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said:
It seems that the Saudis and Emiratis feel emboldened by the alignment of their regional interests – toward Iran and Islamism – with the Trump administration, and have decided to deal with Qatar’s alternative approach on the assumption that they will have the administration’s back.” 

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, hold views on Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood that are virtually indistinguishable from those in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are emerging as the two spearheads around which U.S. regional policies are realigning, including a set of hawkish defense and security interests; the joint raid conducted by U.S. and UAE Special Forces in Yemen in January may well be only the first of numerous joint initiatives across regional conflict zones in the months and years ahead.  In Bahrain, the deadliest raid by security forces on opposition forces since 2011 resulted in five deaths just two days after Trump assured the Bahraini king of a new era in bilateral relations.

Saudi state news agency SPA said Riyadh had closed its borders, severing land, sea and air contact. It cited officials as saying it was to "protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism". The statement went on to accuse Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi'ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.
The Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels also expelled Qatar from its alliance because of Doha's "practices that strengthen terrorism" and its support to groups "including Al-Qaeda and Daesh [also known as the so-called Islamic State], as well as dealing with the rebel militias", according to SPA. Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli football club has taken that advice to heart, announcing on Twitter that it would be breaking its sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways. Much food-stuff supplies arrives via Saudi Arabia would be cut off to Qatar, which heavily depends on imports to feed its population.
Egypt has also closed its airspace and ports for all Qatari transportation, the foreign ministry said. Qatar's 200,000-plus Egyptian residents are wondering how this diplomatic fight will affect them.
The United Arab Emirates has given Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.
Abu Dhabi accuses Doha of "supporting, funding and embracing terrorism, extremism and sectarian organisations," state news agency WAM said.
Bahrain's state news agency said the country was cutting ties with Qatar over "shaking the security and stability of Bahrain and meddling in its affairs".
The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May that hackers took over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments from its ruling emir about Iran and Israel. But several Gulf Cooperation Council states rejected Qatar's explanation and responded with anger, blocking Qatari-based media, including the news network Al-Jazeera. Qatar shares the world's largest gas field, South pars, with Iran. The commercial and business ties have irritated Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries
Qatar faces criticism over its support of Islamists, among them the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it challenges the nations’ hereditary rule.  Saudi Arabia fell out with Qatar over its backing of then Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member. Western officials also accuse Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni extremists like al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front. The Afghan Taliban opened an office in Doha in 2013.

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