Monday, June 5

Mystery on the Arab Express: Seven countries suddenly gang up on Qatar. But why?

Events are moving so fast today that nobody can keep up but clearly this is not a routine spat. Of the countries that have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in the past 24 hours, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain have also closed ALL their borders to the country. And Qatar has been thrown out of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen. AND the Gulf Cooperation Council has obviously fallen apart given that most of its members have ganged up on Qatar. AND this is going to wreak havoc on OPEC. And there is lots more fallout.        

The big question is how did what started as a dust-up about statements made on Qatar news outlets (which Qatar's government denied making) morph into a seismic shift not only in the Arab Middle East but also in Arab North Africa? Here I'm featuring two reports -- from ZeroHedge and Egyptian Streets -- that take a whack at the answer. But the resolution to the mystery might turn out to be a mash-up of several situations and even include political fallout from the London Bridge attack, which is threatening to bring down the Conservative government not to mention Mrs May. 

There is also the queer story that ZeroHedge passes along about leaked details of a "secret" security alliance between Turkey and Qatar.

Or has Al Saud decided, in the wake of the three recent terror attacks in England and general complaints from several Western countries, to pull back on support for terrorist groups and leave Qatar holding the bag? 

Other theories provide an opportunity for trench humor. ZeroHedge waggishly notes, "One thing seems clear -- support for a Syrian gas pipeline will be dwindling and with it the need for a Syrian war." If only. But I think ZH means an alleged scheme by Qatar to run a gas pipeline through Syria, which has long been rumored to be the biggest reason for Qatar's machinations against Assad's government.      

Now I know that 15 minutes after I publish this post I'll come across reports with more theories but one has to start somewhere on the fogbound Yellow Brick Road. Ah! I see I don't even have to wait 15 minutes; here's Moon of Alabama's complex take on the situation including this observation:
 Half of the food in Qatar comes via Saudi Arabia through Qatar's only land border. 600-800 trucks per day can no longer pass. [another source says it's 40 percent of the food]
And here is a simple theory from DEBKAFile. ("Qatar under Arab boycott for scheming with Iran"). 

All the theories are reminding me of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express."  

June 5, 2017
Egyptian Streets

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and the Maldives have cut ties with Qatar over its ‘support of terrorism’.

Qatar responded to the accusations as “unjustified”.

“The measures are unjustified and are based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact,” said Qatar’s Foreign Ministry in a statement to Al Jazeera.

According to Reuters, the four countries [sic] have accused Qatar of destabilizing the region and supporting terrorist organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian state media reports that the Egyptian government has shut down its airspace and ports for all Qatari modes of transportation.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s state media reports all Saudi borders, including land, sea, and air, have been shut down to Qatar to protect Saudi Arabia’s national interest. The Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen also expelled Qatar from its alliance for “supporting groups including Al-Qaeda and ISIS and dealing with rebels”.

Meanwhile, the UAE has given all Qatari diplomats just 48 hours to leave the country. UAE state media said the Emirati government accused Doha of supporting and funding terrorism and extremism, as well as sectarian violence.

Reports from Bahrain cited by Al-Jazeera indicate Qatari diplomats have also been given 48 hours to depart.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have reportedly given all Qatari nationals just two weeks to return to Qatar. The three countries and Egypt also announced that they have closed their airspace to Qatar Airways.

Flights to Qatar have also been suspended. The UAE’s Etihad Airways, Emirates and Flydubai announced that all flights would be suspended from Tuesday morning. Saudi Arabia announced similar suspensions for its airlines.

Why now?

The severing of ties comes amid increasing tensions between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors in recent weeks.

Two weeks ago, the three Gulf countries and Egypt blocked Al-Jazeera and other Qatari news outlets after comments were aired on Qatari state television by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani criticizing Saudi Arabia.

In the comments, the Emir denounced condemnations of Iran and said Qatar had a positive relationship with Israel.

However, several hours after the comments were aired, Qatar said that the comments were faked and that Qatar’s state newspaper had been the subject of a hack.

Despite the denial, Qatari news agencies continued to be banned in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain.

Egypt has meanwhile long accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, particularly after the ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. Qatar provided refuge for fleeing Muslim Brotherhood members falling the ouster of Morsi and was accused of using Al-Jazeera to undermine Egypt’s national security.


June 5, 2016 - 6:20 AM EDT
ZeroHedge [via SouthFront, a 'secure' site]

Just days after president Trump left the region, a geopolitical earthquake is taking place in the Middle East tonight as the rift between Qatar and other members of the (likely extinct) Gulf Cooperation Council explodes with Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt cutting all diplomatic ties with Qatar accusing it of “spreading chaos,” by funding terrorism and supporting Iran.
The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since, and appears to be climaxing now… just days after President Trump left the region.
As Al Arabiya reports, Bahrain has announced it is cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, according to a statement carried on Bahrain News Agency.
The statement on Monday morning said Bahrain decided to sever ties with its neighbor “on the insistence of the State of Qatar to continue destabilizing the security and stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain and to intervene in its affairs”.
The statement also said Qatar’s incitement of the media and supporting of terrorist activities and financing groups linked to Iran were reasons behind the decision.
“(Qatar has) spread chaos in Bahrain in flagrant violation of all agreements and covenants and principles of international law Without regard to values, law or morals or consideration of the principles of good neighborliness or commitment to the constants of Gulf relations and the denial of all previous commitments,” the statement read.
Qatari citizens have 14 days to leave Bahraini territories while Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the country after being expelled. Meanwhile, Bahrain has also banned all of its citizens from visiting or residing in Qatar after the severance of ties.
Additionally, Bahrain has closed both air and sea borders with Qatar.
Saudi Arabia then confirmed the same – cutting ties and shutting down all sea, airspace, and land crossings with Qatar as well as dissolving Qatar’s role in the Saudi-led coalition fighting against Yemen. 
Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, Gulf Air, and Egypt Air are no longer allowed to fly to Qatar and Saudi Arabia is providing facilities, services to Qatari pilgrims. [?]
Egypt then followed, confirming it was cutting diplomatic ties with [Qatar]. 
Then UAE confirmed it would cut ties, shut down all sky, water, and land crossings, and expel all Qataris within 48 hours.
The Maldives also just cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.
All of this happened within 24 hours of Iran calling out ‘The West’ for ignoring the real sponsors of terrorism around the world and UK’s Labor party leader outright name-shaming Saudi Arabia’s funding of terrorism
[Pundita note:  See June 4 RT report: "UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has called for some 'difficult conversations' with Saudi Arabia, accusing it and other Gulf countries of promoting extremist ideologies." But while I'd have to double-check, I don't think this is the first time Corbyn has name-shamed Saudi Arabia, or maybe that was for the Yemen War.]
Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As a reminder, documents obtained by Middle East Eye show [a] strategic alliance includes [a] pledge by Ankara to protect Gulf state from external threats…
In December 2015, Turkey announced, to the surprise of many, that it planned to establish a military base in Qatar. Behind the scenes, the agreement was about forming a major strategic alliance. 
After a 100-year hiatus, Turkey is militarily back in the Gulf and ramping up its presence overseas. In January, Ankara announced that it would also establish a military base in Somalia.
Specific details about the Qatar agreement, which Turkey described as an alliance in the face of “common enemies”, remain scant, but Middle East Eye has acquired copies of the agreements, as well as further details, which include a secret pledge by Ankara to protect Qatar from external threats.
Did Qatar just get scapegoated in the ‘war on terror’? One thing seems clear, support for a Syrian gas pipeline will be dwindling and with it the need for a Syrian war.
Notably, this raises further doubts about OPEC’s stability. As Bloomberg notes, while Middle East ructions have historically added risk premia to oil prices, discord here could theoretically put downward pressure on prices as OPEC members struggle to maintain unity and compliance on production cuts.


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