When President Trump went to Saudi Arabia on his first overseas trip and called upon several Arab states to band together in opposition to Iran and other supporters of terror I don’t think this was what he had in mind. Over the weekend, a coalition of Arab nations did indeed join together to cut diplomatic ties with somebody, but it turned out to be Qatar. As Bloomberg reports, the situation escalated quickly, and it’s going to be a complicated mess for the United States to sort out.
Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries cut off most diplomatic and economic ties to Qatar, in an unprecedented move designed to punish one of the region’s financial superpowers for its ties with Iran and Islamist groups in the region.
Oil gained and Qatari stocks plunged after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt said they will suspend air and sea travel to and from the Gulf emirate. Saudi Arabia will also shut land crossings with its neighbor, potentially depriving the emirate of imports through its only land border. Qatar called the accusations “baseless” and said they were part of a plan to “impose guardianship on the state, which in itself is a violation of sovereignty.”
Qatar is definitely in a cozy relationship with Iran and they are suspected of various ties to terror groups (if not “officially” then through wealthy patrons inside the country acting of their own accord) so on the surface this seems to be in line with the proposed alliance in that region. It’s also not the first time that tensions have flared between Saudi Arabia and that nation. Unfortunately for Qatar, the Saudis have a lot of cards to play. They control their only land border, so the peninsula can be effectively isolated. Their next closest neighbor along the coast is the United Arab Emirates, but they’ve joined in with the Saudis. Their air travel is also now limited because the AP reports that multiple airlines are suspending flights to and from that country.
Dubai’s budget carrier FlyDubai says it has canceled its flights to Qatar amid a diplomatic dispute between it and other Arab countries. The carrier said Monday that all flights starting Tuesday would be suspended. It offered no other details.
FlyDubai’s decision follows that of Emirates and Etihad in canceling flights to Doha.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all cut diplomatic ties earlier Monday to Qatar over its support of Islamist groups and its relations with Iran.
If we were examining this situation in a void we might think this was a positive development all the way around. We asked these nations to stand up to Iran and fight the funding of terrorist organizations and they are complying, right? Well… sort of. But Qatar is a country that walks a tightrope of diplomacy and plays to both sides. Yes, they are close to Iran, share oil and gas fields with them and probably funnel money to terrorist groups. But they are also the home to the forward headquarters of CENTCOM and they invest their considerable wealth massively in many western nations and interests. Also, they’ve played the role of intermediary for the United States with people we “don’t negotiate with” in the past. Along with some more high profile exchanges you are no doubt aware of, in 2014 they arranged for the release of American journalist Peter Theo Curtis.
The fact is that we’re sort of stuck in a marriage of convenience (or at least an engagement with a promise ring) with Qatar. Having our newly enlisted Arab allies go after them this fast and this hard is going to complicate the diplomatic situation for the Trump administration. And that’s probably the last thing we needed at this point. Still, if it doesn’t break out into open warfare over there a bit of smart diplomacy might cool things back down to the status quo.