Tuesday 6 June, 2017 Update: Saudi Arabia’s Move Was A Long Time Coming

Saudi Arabia Qatar

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.

Monday, 4 January, 2016 Update: Saudi Arabia Cuts Ties With Iran

Iran-saudi flags

After the ransacking of its embassy in Tehran over the weekend, Saudi Arabia has wasted little time in severing diplomatic ties with Iran. Less than a day later, a number of Saudi allies are hopping aboard the bandwagon against Iran. Sudan and Bahrain have severed ties with Iran outright, while the UAE has recalled its ambassador in Tehran. The Emirates will maintain its trade links with Iran for the time being. The diplomatic maneuvering is happening amid a backdrop of rising tension and increasing sectarian strife in the region. As Iran’s regional power and influence rises, the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia view this as an increasingly serious threat.

When announcing the severing of diplomatic relations with Iran, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir accused Iran of having “distributed weapons and planted terrorist cells in the region”. The Gulf States, like their Saudi ally, blame Iran for attempting to spread instability across the region. Following the execution of Sheik Nimr, Iran fired a volley of thinly-veiled threats at the Saudis, hinting that the execution will lead to imminent sectarian violence in the region. In the last twenty-four hours or so, Saudi police have come under heavy gunfire in the hometown of Nimr, while bombs have exploded in two Sunni mosques and a Sunni mosque was killed by gunmen in Iraq.

The timing of the attacks is quite suspect to say the least. Are these examples of spontaneous sectarian strife or is it happening on orders from Tehran?