Skip to content

Saudi Intimidation of Qatar – The Syrian Connection

June 17, 2017

Bangladeshi workers living in cramped quarters in Doha, Qatar. Qatar boasts one of the highest standards of living in the world. But these living standards do not extend to foreign workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines who work in conditions that international human rights organizations have described as close to slave labor

 

Anti-Iranian Coalition Trump and the Saudis Tried to Slam Together in Chaos.

The Saudi led blockade (which the Saudis insist is not one) of Qatar is stuttering. The anti-Iranian campaign heralded by Donald Trump in Riyadh in mid-May has failed to get off the ground. Not only that it has backfired. The Saudis underestimated Qatari support in the region from Turkey and Iran. The blockade has, for all practical purposes failed. They also miscalculated U. S. support for the effort. True enough Donald Trump and his little family entourage might have been enthusiastic, but the representatives of the military industrial complex (Mattis) and the energy industry (Tillerson) are far from enthusiastic and have not bought in to the Saudi project of regime change in Qatar. Not at all.

The blockade which Saudi Arabia has spearheaded against Qatar with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt is now more than a week old. Blockades, lest it be forgotten, are a form of warfare. These countries have cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, kicked out their embassy staff, closed down branches of the Qatari run Al Jazeera media outlet. They have cut transport links, making it difficult for the country to import and export goods. Air space for Qatar Airways, the country’s airlines has been denied air space over Saudi Arabia and landing possibilities in the other states involved, complicating the airlines travel routes. On the opening days of the embargo/boycott – essentially a full court economic siege – the computer systems of many of the country’s institutions experienced cyber attacks.

As an example of how far this anti-Qatari blitzkrieg has gone, the United Arab Emirates made it illegal “for citizens to feel sorry for what is happening in Qatar.”As an example of how far this anti-Qatari blitzkrieg has gone, the United Arab Emirates made it illegal “for citizens to feel sorry for what is happening in Qatar. The UAE Attorney General Hamad Saif- al Shamsi noted:”

“Strict and firm action will be taken against any one who shows sympathy or any form of bias towards Qatar or anyone who objects to the position of the United Arab Emirates, whether it be through the means of social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form.

Certainly the Saudi hope for a quick knockout blow that would tame the Qataris into submission to Washington and Riyadh’s coordinated diktats has not taken place. Key Washington regional allies (Turkey, Iran, Oman, Kuwait) have opposed it to one degree or another and have been able to stall any military action against Qatar that Saudi might have been contemplating and to place the Saudis on the ideological offensive. A call from the United Arab Emirates to move the U.S. air base from Qatar to the Emirates has been outright rejected by Secretary of Defense James Mattis. A stalled crisis plays in Qatar’s favor that some grace saving formula (for Saudi) can be found to smooth over this spat among U.S. strategic allies.

Trump Goes Right, Mattis and Tillerson Left on Blockade of Qatar

U.S. President, and mediocre Saudi sword-dancer, Donald Trump, gave his blessings to the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar during his visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in May. Since then he has repeatedly tweeted his support of the blockade despite the fact that his Secretaries of State and Defense have taken less strident, anti-Qatari positions. In his usual shallow understanding of issues, be it the healthcare crisis in the United States or the complexities of the Middle East, Donald Trump has managed to aggravate the antagonisms among some of Washington’s key U.S. allies – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey – among them.

U.S. President, and mediocre Saudi sword-dancer, Donald Trump, gave his blessings to the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar during his visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in May. Since then he has repeatedly tweeted his support of the blockade despite the fact that his Secretaries of State and Defense have taken less strident, anti-Qatari positions. In his usual shallow understanding of issues, be it the healthcare crisis in the United States or the complexities of the Middle East, Donald Trump has managed to aggravate the antagonisms among some of Washington’s key U.S. allies – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey – among them.

Actually as the crisis unfolds – other than the President whose grasp of Middle East politics – and U.S. strategic interests there – is rather poor – it becomes more and more apparent that the more powerful elements that make up the Trump cabinet (the military industries, energy) really couldn’t care less about this spat between Saudi Arabia and Qatar one way or another, as long as both continue to support broader U.S. strategic interests in the region. Of course, if the situation continues to spiral downward, there is a danger of the U.S. allies turning on one another in a yet more uglier mess. So much for the “Arab NATO,” the “anti-Iranian coalition.”

Actually as the crisis unfolds – other than the President whose grasp of Middle East politics – and U.S. strategic interests there – is rather poor – it becomes more and more apparent that the more powerful elements that make up the Trump cabinet (the military industries, energy) really couldn’t care less about this spat between Saudi Arabia and Qatar one way or another, as long as both continue to support broader U.S. strategic interests in the region. Of course, if the situation continues to spiral downward, there is a danger of the U.S. allies turning on one another in a yet more uglier mess. So much for the “Arab NATO,” the “anti-Iranian coalition.”

In his perceptive manner, Robert Fisk, writing in the British Independent, referred to “Donald Trump’s preposterous attendance at the Saudi summit.” President Trump was sidestepping – or perhaps he really didn’t know – that Qatar has been a major ally of the United States, that Qatar  was actively engaged in the U.S. led effort to overthrow Khadaffi in Libya. In Syria , the Qataris were involved from the outset in active support – as have the Saudis – to Wahhabist and Salafist militias in Syria in their efforts to overthrow the government of Bechir Assad in Syria. Then there is the not so little issue of the U.S. Al Udeid Air Base just outside Doha, Qatar’s capitol, the largest permanent U.S. military base in the Persian Gulf area.

Trumps factional approach – coming down square on the Saudi side of the Wahhabist-Moslem Brotherhood regional competition – has resulted in the unraveling of the anti-Iranian alliance he tried to slam together in Riyadh, the poorly named “Arab NATO” – poorly named because many of the key players (Turkey, Pakistan) are not Arab, but Muslim. The degree to which the President has overplayed his hand is reflected in the damage control that his Secretaries of State, Defense are engaged in to soften the anti-Qatari rhetoric coming from Washington.

Once again the world is getting mixed messages from Washington with Trump tweeting away his support for the Saudi led blockade while Mattis and Tillerson speak what amounts to as a different language on the subject as the approval of a $12 billion military purchase of F-15 fighter jets suggests, this coming the day after Trump accused Qatar of being a hot-bed of terrorism.  One learns far more about U.S. policy in the Middle East by watching what Mattis and Tillerson have to say about Qatar than the president’s vacuous toothless policies. The social forces that elected Trump expect their pound of flesh, one of them being the military industries. They could care less about Trumps rhetoric against Qatar. There are deals to make and if it means embarrassing the president (again) by concluding a multi-billion dollar deal with cash rich monarchy, so be it.

Trump’s turn against Qatar, another example of his impulsiveness, came as part of a desperate attempt to lift his sagging popularity at home in the United States. It was a part of a deal that includes massive Saudi purchases of U.S weaponry, the first tranches of which have been approved, Saudi promises of major investments in U.S. equities and treasury bonds, all of which Trump hoped would boost his standing on the home front. What did the Saudi get from the $500 billion in promised trade deals, military or otherwise? They got him to repeat ad nauseam a lot of lies about Iran being “the source of terrorism” in the Middle East, a theme he repeated like a broken record during his Saudi stay. But for the anti-Iranian alliance to be successful, he needed to bring together, or at least dampen down, some of the underlying factional tensions among U.S. allies, some of which are religious (Wahhabist-Moslem Brotherhood competition) but most of which concern the clashes of unbridled expansionist nationalism, be it the Turkish, Saudi, or Israeli version.

Although the overall goal of U.S. Middle East policy remains that of unchallenged hegemony over the Middle East, former U.S. diplomacy in the region was more adept at controlling the tensions between its allies than building a coalition among them. In return for agreeing to hitch their economic future even more closely to the United States , the Saudi’s demanded Trump  involve himself most imprudently in inter-Arab competition for regional hegemony – but then what is prudence for the Great Tweeter? Under the influence of his son-in-law and multi-millionaire slum landlord extraordinaire, Jared Kushner, “his key Middle East adviser”, this Trump gladly did, coming down hard on the Saudi side of the long-festering Saudi-Qatari competition. Kushner is intimately involved with Israel’s extreme religious right-wing movement, Chabab, one of the strongest advocates of settlement building in the West Bank.

A wealth of natural gas in a Persian Gulf field which  Qatar shares with Iran has permitted Qatar, a country of 2 million (of whom only 200,000 are Qatari), to become more independent of their larger neighbor, Saudi Arabia. Qatar – or Qatari money – plays a role out of proportion with its small size. From a U.S. hegemonic strategic viewpoint, Trump’s down right dumb Saudi partisanship emboldened the Saudis to threaten the Qatar’s in an effort to frighten and humiliate Qatar into submission: follow the Saudi approach or else! No more independent political initiatives, especially with Iran. It was all a bit crude, but typically Trumpian frankly.

Saudi Sport – “Disciplining” Its Neighbors

What was the heart of the matter in Donald Trump’s address to the Arab and Islamic leaders that Washington and Riyadh had cajoled, pressured and intimidated to participate in the Great Riyadh Revival? Very simple – Trump was telling both the Arab and Islamic world that he, Donald Trump, as president of the United States, was casting his fate in a strengthened alliance with Saudi Arabia, that after a short period “in the political desert” that Saudi Arabia is the Washington anointed surrogate in the Middle East (for the moment) and that all the others – Qatar included – should follow the Saudi lead. Trump’s remarks gave the Saudi’s confidence that now they have the full support of the Trump Administration to pursue a near hysterical anti-Iranian political strategy and to force other Arab nations to fall in line behind that policy. Qataris not exactly an innocent babe in the woods by the way in terms of Middle East politics but it refused to bow to Saudi intimidation.

Saudi aggravation, irritation with Qatar stems has several roots.

Although a close and faithful ally of the United States, Qatar has been distancing itself from Saudi control for some time to pursue a slightly more independent path, but independent enough to create growing resentment in Riyadh. Just as Moscow would not tolerate even the slightest deviation from its brand of orthodox Communism, be it coming from Yugoslavia, Hungary or Czechoslovakia during the post WW 2 era, so it is that Saudi hostility towards any “deviation” of its understanding of Islam or its political program  is not tolerated either. Yemen is being punished – essentially for its effort to loosen the Saudi grip on its country’s politics, and now it is Qatar’s turn. Nor is this the first time that the Saudis have threatened, pressured, intimidated Qatar.

Saudi bullying of its smaller – but natural gas rich – neighbor has a long history. To cite a few examples of what has been a contentious history:
A 1965 agreement between Qatar and Saudi Arabia set the borders between the two, but in 1992 a border clash resulted in three deaths. Qatar claimed that Saudi Arabia had attacked its border post at Khafus, while Saudi Arabia countered that the clash was on Saudi territory and had occurred between Bedouins from the two sides.

As Bloomberg’s website notes in 1995 deputy emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa deposed his pro-Saudi father, Khalifa, in a bloodless coup that had the knowledge and backing of the Clinton Administration (and the Israelis)at the time. This coup came as Qatar was about to make its first shipment of liquid natural gas from the world’s largest reservoir. The offshore North Field, which provides virtually all of Qatar’s gas, is shared with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s hated rival. Qatar was thus able to break its long-held vassal status with Saudi Arabi and begin to pursue a more independent foreign policy that includes normal relations with Russia and Iran.

• Saudi influence was still strong enough to force Sheik Hamad to abdicate to his son Tammin in 2013, a person with far less political acumen than his father whom the Saudi’s hoped to more effectively manipulate. Saudis, who enrage easily, were again upset, this time by the increases in Qatari influence in the Middle East and North Africa due to the electoral victories of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia (Ennahdha, the Tunisian branch of the brotherhood). They pressed Washington who agreed with the plan that Sheik Hamad had to go.

Qatar Wants To Normalize Relations With Iran

Given its great wealth in natural gas, Qatar has been able to pursue a regional policy somewhat independent of Riyadh and break away to a certain extent from Saudi dictates. Recent history suggests that rather than fearing some kind of aggression from Iran, to the contrary Qatar has long looked upon its fellow Wahhabist neighbor, Saudi Arabia as much more of a threat. To achieve some modicum of independence from Riyadh, Qatar has sought to build economic and strategic relations with other regional (and international power players).

• Where it concerns the United States, Robert Fisk makes a telling point. He once asked Sheik Hamad, father of the current Emir, Tammin Bin Hamad al Thani, why he didn’t kick the Americans out of Qatar (the Al Udeid Base) he replied, “Because if I did, my Arab brothers – an oblique reference to the Saudis – would invade me• While no friend of Iran, to nothing less than Saudi fury, Qatar has tried – and more or less successfully – to enter into normal, business-like relations with Iran, as have to some extent, two other Arab Gulf countries, Kuwait and Oman.

• Then there is the media outlet Al Jazeera, a Qatari government resource, which while careful not to probe Qatari politics, has done some of the more critical reporting on the foibles – and they are many – of other countries in the Arab World. This has infuriated a number of governments, among them the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

• Over the past few decades, the Qataris have sidled up and offered support to the Muslim Brotherhoods, the Islamic movement whose competition with Saudi Wahhabism for regional influence is reminiscent of the 16th century competitive boxing match between Catholicism and Protestantism in Europe.

For a Mere $500 billion, the Saudis Emerge from the Doghouse

Much of the criticism that is emanating from Trump’s tweet’s and different Saudi government officials has zeroed in on Qatar’s support of terrorism. It is the case, Qatar has and does give financial, political and military support to a number of Islamic terrorist groups operating in Syria…but then so do the Saudis and the Turks. In these surrogate operations where Washington pulls the strings, it is important that a “surrogate leader” with clear lines of authority be obeyed by the other players. In fact, while some commentators have referred to differences between Saudi and Qatar backed and funded terrorist factions, most of these commentaries miss the point: the United States has “changed horses in midstream.”

Not supposed to do that but Washington did.

The Qatar royals are temporarily in the dog house, while the Saudi’s are back in favor. A lot of what is transpiring has little to do with Qatar’s support for terrorism and their sheltering of Muslim Brotherhood Islamic fundamentalism – they do both, but then so do the Saudis. At its highest levels, the United States could care less that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are throwing their money and influence around the region in support of this or that fundamentalist group. What Washington does care about is Syria, and winning the battle to overthrow the Assad government as a prelude to partitioning the country.

In 2011 Washington gave the reins to Qatar and Turkey to bring down Assad. Although they came close, the Qataris could “not deliver the goods” in Syria. The Assad government not only survived but its situation on the ground has strengthened a great deal.  Starting in 2015-2017  a policy shift based on counting more and more on the Saudis  in Syria came into being.. Beginning their murderous war against Yemen, did not deter Riyadh from getting even more involved in Syria and “sticking it to” their Moslem Brotherhood opponents…and Qatar. The Saudis  were only too happy to pick up the ball from Qatar and intensified their own support for ISIS like groups. As a result there was a certain jockeying on the ground between Islamic militants faithful to Saudi and Wahhabism and those supported by Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhoods. Essentially what the Saudi want to do through this blockade is to force Qatar to accept its leadership in Syria by threatening to isolate it politically and economically.

In 2011 Washington gave the reins to Qatar and Turkey to bring down Assad. Although they came close, the Qataris could “not deliver the goods” in Syria. The Assad government not only survived but its situation on the ground has strengthened a great deal.  Starting in 2015-2017  a policy shift based on counting more and more on the Saudis  in Syria came into being.. Beginning their murderous war against Yemen, did not deter Riyadh from getting even more involved in Syria and “sticking it to” their Moslem Brotherhood opponents…and Qatar. The Saudis  were only too happy to pick up the ball from Qatar and intensified their own support for ISIS like groups. As a result there was a certain jockeying on the ground between Islamic militants faithful to Saudi and Wahhabism and those supported by Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhoods. Essentially what the Saudi want to do through this blockade is to force Qatar to accept its leadership in Syria by threatening to isolate it politically and economically.

Having been “passed the baton’ of managing the terrorist network in Syria, the Saudis want to run the Islamic terrorist show in Syria and are demanding that the Qataris fall in line. The entire U.S. military security structure supports this. The question is not if Qatar should be pressured or not, but just how far to take the pressure, with Trump and the Saudi’s issuing threats they cannot carry out, while Mattis and the generals take a softer approach – sell advanced weapons to the Qataris – $12 billion worth – and use that buy influence. But not only has a decision been made in Washington to lean more on the Saudis in Syria and less on Qatar, but that appears not enough as Washington trusts neither of them to “get the Syrian job done.” And so the shift to simply using Saudi to direct the murderous orchestra in Syria rather than Qatar is accompanied by another development, the introduction of a direct U.S. troop presence itself into the U.S. created messes in Syria and Iraq.

As the situation in the past year was quickly turning against U.S. plans to partition the country, there was a policy shift, escalated under Trumpty-Dumpty, for more direct U.S. involvement to save the partition plan (the Doha Agreements) both in the south of Syria and in the east…where rather than fighting ISIS and like “mishugginah” groups, the U.S. is protecting them, and engaged in military operations against the Syrian government. U.S. plan for Syria has never changed – partition – only the tactics for achieving the goals. As surrogates prove incapable or unwilling to do the job, to keep the plan alive – a unified Syria free from ISIS et al would be a strategic defeat for the United States – the new Administration has shifted to more U.S. troops on the ground. Read somewhere – but where?- there are now more than 35,000 U.S. troops (not to count private security firms, other private enterprises in the business of war making) on the ground in the Greater Middle East.

___________________________

Links:

Is Saudi Arabia Preparing To Invade Qatar?

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: