What’s Been Happening?
A few weeks ago, President Trump made his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia where he delivered an address to at least dozens of Arab and Muslim-majority countries at the Arab Islamic American Summit.
His speech focused on the long-standing fight against extremists as he urged Middle East nations to do more. “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this Earth.”
Later on though, his speech turned to harsh criticism of Iran as a government that speaks openly of mass murder, with vows to destroy Israel, America and other nations in the room. The anti-Iran language is likely to resonate well with Saudi Arabia being a largely Sunni Muslim population as opposed to Iran who is the region’s Shia Muslim power.
What Now? Operation Isolate Qatar Commences
Trump’s speech seems to have successfully galvanized some Arab nations into action as Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen simultaneously severed diplomatic ties with Qatar for supporting terrorism.
Some action points:
- Saudi Arabia has closed its land border with Qatar through which the tiny nation imports most of its food.
- All countries have ordered their citizens to leave Qatar and for Qataris abroad to return to their country within 14 days.
- Diplomatic staff from the Arab nations will be withdrawn from Qatar and Qatar’s diplomats will be ejected.
All nations plan to cut air and sea traffic with some regional airlines having already announced that they would suspend services (e.g. Etihad, Emirates, Air Arabia, Bahrain’s Gulf Air).
Trump congratulated Saudi Arabia and himself, taking some credit for the action by tweeting on Twitter: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off… they said they would take a hard line on funding extremism and all reference was pointing to Qatar”.
All of this however, is actually a big problem for the United States who happens to maintain its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East,at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base in its fight against ISIS. It needs everyone getting along for its operations to continue smoothly. U.S Intelligence Officials have said that they believe the diplomatic crisis could instead be the result of a Russian hack involving the planting of a fake news story with Qatar’s State News Agency. The false news item reportedly carried false remarks from Qatar’s ruler that were friendly to Iran and Israel.
Trump’s twitter messages is likely to worsen the dispute between Qatar and the other countries. In fact, it only adds further to his own credibility crisis as the messages seem to directly contradict his previous praise of Qatar during the summit as a strategic partner in the war on terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Saudis will certainly be hoping that Qatar acquiesces to its demands including: curb its State news agency Al-Jazeera, agree to Saudi positions on various conflicts in Eygpt, Israel-Palestine, Libya and Syria, and most importantly, take a harder stance towards Iran. The last one would be the most difficult to achieve as Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest independent gas field beneath the waters of the Persian Gulf and have played at being friendly neighbours with each other in the past.
In the case of Qatar, they are more than likely hoping for some help from the international community in defusing the dispute and restore diplomatic ties with everyone. It seems that much of it may be up to Trump – whether he will walk the talk or simply talk the talk.