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Postscript to “Is Saudi Arabia Preparing To Invade Qatar?” Fourteen Months Later

August 2, 2018

Postscript. August 2, 2018

At the time I wrote this piece “Will Saudi Arabia Invade Qatar“, last June, it very much appeared that indeed Saudi Arabia along with its regional partner in crime, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), were prepared to invade Qatar to seize its lucrative natural gas assets and its $320 billion sovereign wealth fund to help prop up Saudi’s own flagging reserves. Preparations were well underway. Saudi anti-Qatari rhetoric had been whipped up, troop build ups were in place. But then it didn’t happen and soon the invasion threat seemed to dissipate, although the Saudi-U.A.E. economic blockade of Qatar continues.

I wondered if I had been wrong in the first place – ie, that the threat was to intimidate Qatar to fall in line, to distance itself from Iran and return to the Wahhabist fold or, whether something took place behind the scenes that staid the Saudi hand at the last  moment. An article that appeared at “The Intercept” by Alex Emmons yesterday gave ample credence to what transpired “behind the scenes,” staying the Saudi military hand.

The article suggests that then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired in large measure as a result of an intensive Saudi-U.A.E. lobbying effort against him over his efforts to “mediate and block their blockade of Qatar.” Tillerson had actively intervened to dissuade the Saudis not to invade its much smaller, natural gas rich neighbor, worried over the open breach between two key Persian Gulf allies.

According to the article, Tillerson’s timely intervention especially enraged the U.A.E.’s crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed. Tillerson, apparently working in conjunction with U.S. Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, were able to force to Saudi’s to halt their invasion plans at the last  minute. More than likely there were other factors involved in Tillerson’s humiliating dismissal, among them the likelihood that Tillerson tied down Trump’s “negotiating strategy” with more far reaching ruling class concerns.

Tillerson’s Qatar intervention was more the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” the last in what was a series of growing tensions over the direction of U.S. foreign policy. In any case, although he lost his job as a result, all indications are that Tillerson, with a little help from Mattis, was able to derail the Saudi plans to invade Qatar.

Left out of the article, and of importance, complicating the situation for Washington as well as the Saudi invasion plans,  both Turkey and Iran came to Qatar’s assistance, both economically and militarily. A Saudi led invasion would have thus led very possibly to a regional war. This was another factor in Tillerson’s efforts to bridle Riyadh’s regional military ambitions.

The Intercept article goes on to note:

“The Invasion Plan raises questions about interventionalist tendencies on the part of two of the US.’s closest allies and largest weapons’ clients. In recent years both countries have demonstrated a willingness to use military force to reshape politics in the Gulf, intervening in Bahrain to suppress an Arab Spring uprising in 2011 ans waging a three-year, U.S.-backed war that has devastated Yemen.”

Saudi – U.A.E. regional influence extends beyond the Gulf Region to the Horn of Africa where they are busy politicking between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia in their efforts to control both sides of the Bab El Mandeb Straits, the outlet from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean through which oil, natural gas and many other products flow between Asia and Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.

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What follows in last year’s article: Is Saudi Arabia Planning To Invade Qatar?

Is this where all the pressure on Qatar is heading?

I don’t know…but it is very much within the realm of possibility and if I was a betting man, as the expression goes, (I am not) I’d put down a nice sum on the “they’ll go in” side of the equation.  Whatever, the Saudis, their Emirate allies, with the full support of the United States are essentially trying to overthrow the government of Qatar, a place where four years ago, they also forced the abdication of one emir and replaced him with another.

Regardless, the current Saudi threats against Qatar only deepens the divide between three U.S. allies (two decrepit monarchies fueling dogmatic militant groups in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere and an increasing authoritarian government in Turkey). The new explosive environment undermines a good deal of the fanfare of the Trump Saudi visit that there is something of an “Arab” or “Islamic” NATO in the making. As Saudi Arabia and its close buddies turn on Qatar, consider the Arab NATO as dead in the water…and it only took two weeks for it to collapse, record time actually.

Will it lead to war? We can only hope not and urge restraint on all parties. But at the very least a very, very dangerous scenario is being played out with Saudi and the emirates threatening Qatar, Turkey about to send special forces to its Muslim Brotherhood ally, Qatar, and the Trump Administration seeming not to have a clue as to how to tone down the antagonisms, which if they get out of control, could very well plunge the region and beyond into a kind of war that will make the previous ones appear to be little more than child’s play.

In any case more and more the growing tensions between key U.S. allies in the region is looking like a mini version of Sarajevo in 1914. No better indication of the degree to which the Trump visit to Saudi Arabia was not about peace-making but inflaming tensions in the region. Maybe sword dancing with Wahhabists in Riyahd pretty much negated any references that Trump might have made in his remarks there about “peace” – a concept with which the president does not appear familiar.

It cannot be an accident that the Saudis have “found courage” to take more aggressive moves against their Arab adversaries and of course, Iran in the aftermath of the Trump visit. It is nothing short of pathetic that after having encouraged Saudi sectarianism that has grown into a full blown crisis, ie, that Trump is THE CAUSE of the increased tension, that now in a statement that can only be described as lame and insincere, that the Trump Administration has “offered to mediate” to cool down the flames they have previously set in motion. Another example of how the president and his entourage don’t have a clue as to how to deal with the region…even less so than Obama.

The threats to Qatar come only two months after Qatar announced that it was going to restart development of the South Pars natural gas field after a twelve-year delay. As Qatar Petroleum Chief Executive, Saad al-Kaabi, noted, “For oil there are people who see peak demand in 2030, others in 2042, but for gas demand is always growing.” While Qatar and Iran are developing the natural gas potential of this field separately, there is some modicum of cooperation involved in the project and it appears to be proceeding in a business-like manner, with an absence of tension which must deeply irritate the Saudis, representing as it does, the possible future cooperation on energy development on both sides of the Persian (or as the Arabs refer to it, the “Arab”) Gulf.

The first public hints that such scenario is being considered (that I have seen) comes from an on-line article in Sputnik International, a Russian website. Although, as with all news sources, it is wise to read it with a skeptical eye, it would be a mistake to reject its content out of hand because it is a Russian based source of information. The article claims that this possibility was discussed during Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and that he gave the green light to such an operation (probably as long as the major U.S. base on Qatar, the largest U.S. military installation in the Gulf region, Al Udeid Air Base, remains untouched). Let us be clear here: should such an attack take place, it could not take place with prior approval from Washington and any notion that Saudi Arabia is acting on its own (in Yemen, Syria or now perhaps Qatar) is, as the British would say “poppycock” – rubbish.

There are certain parallels with the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait  and a Saudi military offensive against Qatar:

  • a Washington green light for the operation (in the case of Kuwait, soon thereafter reversed), in Saudi’s case, as mentioned above, there can be no attack without permission from Washington
  • an expansionist ideology – in Iraq’s case for a greater Iraq by swallowing up Kuwait, in Saudi’s case it’s brittle Wahhabist ideology
  • an Arab county in deepening trouble financially (Iraq for its stupid, cruel and costly war against Iran, Saudi for its war against Yemen, a drop in the price of crude oil – which in its stupidity, it helped trigger by flooding oil markets),
  • a growing financial crisis, an attempt to corner the energy market (in Iraq’ case to add Kuwaiti oil to its own, in Saudi’s an effort to control Qatar’s natural gas with its shrinking oil reserves. Qatar has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas, the source of its wealth)
  • and last but not least, an effort to strengthen their positions visavis the growing Iranian influence in the region.

For sometime now Saudi Arabia and Qatar – both whose activities have fueled ISIS-al Qaeda like movements in the region have been at odds. The biggest “sin” that the Qataris have committed is to try to be a voice independent of the Saudis, something that they could do given their great wealth from natural gas reserves. There are certain Islamic doctrinaire conflicts, with the Saudis as usual, spreading their brittle Wahhabist message far and wide while the Qataris align more closely with a competing Islamic fundamentalist sect, the Moslem Brotherhoods. For those unfamiliar with this ideological tension, I simply remark that it is a part of the toxic mix between the two countries and should not be underestimated. It is an integral part of the competition for regional influence. At times even the United States has had to step in, mostly in favor of their Saudi Wahhabist ally, to dampen Qatari aspirations.

For the Trump Administration the logic for supporting such a dumb and dangerous move has several sources, the main one being that a Saudi take-over of Qatar, should it succeed and it probably would, would strengthen the Saudi position to put pressure on Iran. It also serves as a warning to nearby Kuwait to limit if not break its commercial ties with Iran.

While a Saudi absorption of Qatar would strengthen the Saudi position visavis Qatar it will only create greater tensions among American allies, which the Trump Administration is trying to slam together into some kind anti-Iranian alliance. It will pit Turkey, which has promised to come to the aid of Qatar in case of military action, against Saudi Arabia, two of Washington’s most important and strongest regional allies. Rather than strengthening the anti-Iranian alliance, such a move would probably lead to the alliance’s formal collapse. It is already reeling from Pakistan’s refusal to participate.

One should also add, given Saudi military wastefulness, ineffectiveness and utter brutality (think Yemen) that a Saudi invasion and annexation of Qatar will result in a need for the Saudis to, yet again, replenish its weapons supplies, by purchasing yet more military hardware from U.S. arms industries.

Both Kuwait and Qatar, while not particularly friendly with Iran, have tried to maintain cordial, business-like relations with Teheran. Qatar and Iran have been cooperating in developing what is referred to as South Pars natural gas field, some of which lies beneath the surface of the waters adjoining both countries. A successful Saudi invasion of Qatar would end that cooperation and hurt Iran economically. Qatar is the second largest producer of natural gas in the world after Russia, Iran the third. In the case of Kuwait, the relations have been somewhat strained with Iran, but still there has been a modicum of economic cooperation and trade, with once more, natural gas being a factor. For a number of reasons, Kuwait has not been able to develop its natural gas potential. Buying it from neighbor Iran would make the most sense but regional tensions and pressure from both Saudi Arabia and the United States have discouraged these relations from developing beyond a certain point. Still, it is clear that Kuwait has tried not to antagonize Iran to the degree that the Saudis do.

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Photo Image: Turkish troop contingent landing in Qatar in June 2017 to frustrate Saudi-U.A.E. invasion attempt

 

 

4 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    August 2, 2018 3:44 pm

    Well, very informative, today I got into an argument with a guy who worked for Texaco for several years, and he claimed that we have plenty of oil and gas for years into the future. but the guys who have websites on the web regarding peak oil, claim we have passed peak oil. I would really like to know how much oil, and how much natural gas we have to run the world at our current rate and for how many more years, because at some point, unless we capture anti-gravity to turn turbans, or harness fission, we are going back to the middle ages for the rest of humanity’s tenuous future. Our favorite activity is tribal warfare and we are now fighting over the last vestiges of ancient plankton. We may be back to shooting flint arrows at each other before we know it!

    • August 2, 2018 4:26 pm

      The fact is no one knows how much oil is in the ground; there is considerable speculation though that the Saudis and other oil producers regularly overstate their reserves and keep what they know as carefully guarded state secrets

  2. kerim permalink
    August 10, 2018 4:59 pm

    Rob, thanks for laying out the facts . Shouldn’t the saudis have picked on someone of their own size, to begin with ?

    On the other hand, there are sources claiming that the attempt to invade Qatar, had its origin rather in Qatar’s refusal of lending Jerod Kushner the cash he needed, to save a company of his .

    So the saudis, tractable as they’ve always been, promised Kushner & his father-in-Law to teach Qatar a hell of lesson, just shortly after Trump’s famous sword dance in Ryad . By the way, we’re seeing the same thing happening with Canada, this week, in a bid to do a favor to Trump . We can guess that someone has been whispering again in the saudi’s ears . To prove my point, Trump kept silent to this minute . Not a single word ….Not even a tweet !!!! How do you explain that ? An ostentatious “geopolitical illiteracy” from the saudis side ? If it swims like a duck, walks and kwacks like a duck, it must be a duck .

  3. kerim permalink
    August 17, 2018 2:18 pm

    Rob,

    The following link, by The Economist, sweeps the floor with “the prickly Prince” :

    https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/08/18/muhammad-bin-salmans-capriciousness-is-hurting-saudi-arabia

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