It is evident that the Saudi Arabian-led isolation of Qatar has been a long time in the making. Qatar’s funding of select extremist groups over the years was hardly a secret in the Arab world. The Saudis resented Qatar for the hypocrisy and discord of its policies: Contributing to the fight against ISIS on one hand, yet providing financial support to extremist groups such as the one operating in eastern Saudi Arabia on the other. The linchpin of a diplomatic effort against Qatar has always been the United States. Washington’s reaction to a quarrel amongst some of its closest allies had to be factored into any action taken on the part of Riyadh.
During the years of the Obama presidency, the Saudis pointed the finger at Qatar’s complicity again and again. King Abdullah, and then his successor King Salman made informal, but impassioned requests for America’s blessing, or at the very least its tacit approval for a move against Qatar. For eight years the Obama administration rejected the requests. The issues of US allies in the region were unceremoniously placed on the back burner as Washington sought a nuclear deal with Iran at all costs.
The new administration in Washington has not been unreceptive to Saudi concerns about Qatar. When President Trump made his first overseas visit last month, his first stop was Riyadh. He gave a speech to the leaders of over 50 Muslim nations, imploring them to do more in the fight against terrorism. The Saudis, and other leaders in the region assured Trump that they would adopt a hard line on funding extremism. On the surface, the speech and subsequent assurances appeared no more candid than others made in the past. Beneath the diplospeak, however, an iron determination to punish Qatar was taking shape in Riyadh, Dubai, Cairo, and Manama. Trump had given the Saudis, Egyptians and their GCC partners the tacit approval they’d long sought from Washington, and the Saudis have wasted little time in implementing draconian measures on Qatar.
Thus far, Qatar is seeking to remedy the situation through dialogue and diplomacy. A number of leaders around the world are seeking resolution along the same avenue, including Turkish President Erdogan. In the Persian Gulf region, though, leaders expect more from Qatar. “We need a guaranteed roadmap to rebuild confidence after our covenants were broken,” UAE state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter. He accused Doha of turning to “money and media and partisanship and extremism” in a series of tweets early Tuesday morning. Qatar has denied the allegations.
For now, the attention is focused on Qatar and its response to its isolation. An eye needs to be kept on Iran as well, however. Tehran is already trying to involve itself in the matter by offering assistance to Qatar. If the Iranians sense an opportunity to swing the regional balance of power in its favor it will not hesitate to act.