The Gulf crisis: An Analysis

By Sadia Kazmi

The escalation of crisis in the Gulf is not a sudden development but sure is quite rapid.  The cold relations between Qatar and the other three Arab states namely UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain became obvious almost four years ago. Back then the world witnessed a nine month long standoff of these states against Qatar.  Even though the situation apparently got normalized but the tension was building up ever since then. It is now after three years that the situation has gotten worse and has erupted into a catastrophe almost short of a war. Tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia began in 2016 when Qatar was the last country to condemn the Iranian attack on Saudi embassy in Iran by the protestors that took place after Saudi Arabia executed a Shia Saudi cleric. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt launched a number of attempts to prevent Qatar’s cooperation with Iran. One June 4, 2017, when the attempts failed, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain announced cutting all diplomatic ties with Qatar. They even imposed sanctions on Qatar banning Qatar jets from entering the airspace or ports of Saudi Arabia and its allies. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia said that Qatar has to cut its diplomatic ties with Iran and to stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas movement and Hezbollah. However Qatar refuses to fulfill these demands. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohamad Bin Adbu Allah Al-Thani announced that Doha refuses any intervention in its foreign affairs and ensured that Qatar can hold on forever facing the sanctions on imposed on it. Presently there have been list of demands by the Arab states to Qatar along with the deadline after which, as per their claim, the possibility of a war cannot be ruled out.

If the situation escalates any further, the obvious ramifications would be that it will not stay constrained to these major states. The intra-regional politics will invoke the external intervention. The adjacent countries will not be able to escape the inevitable politico-economic fallout. Turkey has been quite active since the very beginning of the conflict and has adopted an explicit position. It is reaching out to Qatar amidst the diplomatic isolation and providing the necessary political, diplomatic and economical aid. Iran also enjoys close relations with Qatar and has condemned the violent tones against the Arab state. Iran has cautiously stood with Qatar so far. Iran’s all out support to Qatar in face of the sanctions imposed on Qatar is evident of the fact that it wants to draw Qatar in its diplomatic folds. One strong ally in the Middle East would definitely matter to Iran. Major Powers like the US and Russia have almost already been grabbed into the conflict. As far s Russia is concerned, it has adopted a neutral approach officially. But at the same time it does appear sympathetic towards Qatar. It has also managed to forge closer ties with Turkey and Iran recently. Qatar is also being demanded by the other Arab states to banish its support for Iran. At the same time Russia, Qatar and Iran contain the biggest Oil reserves of the world. Hence all these factors naturally make Russia mindful of the fact that Qatar not be diplomatically or otherwise be trampled by the regional states. Nonetheless its energy interests in the region with the other GCC states are equally important, for which Russia is treading carefully and has avoided intervening.

China has shown concerns too since most of its energy needs are met in the Middle East. Not only is it one of the biggest consumers of Doha’s gas energy, but it has equally close ties with the other GCC states too. Also it might not augur too well for China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Middle East is one of the prime focuses of this plan where China has already discussed the options for Free Trade Zones. But the crisis in the region might not let the idea materialize into anything concrete. Governed strictly by its strong non interventionist ideals, China would also not physically jump into this conflict but has already conveyed its concerns towards ongoing isolation of Qatar and the possible future escalation. Role of the US is not hidden and is embroiled in a lot of controversy. Despite the presence of dormant conflict within the Middle East, the present chaotic escalation is largely being attributed to the US President Tump’s visit to KSA. Not only the US openly hailed the diplomatic isolation of Qatar but in a strange turn of events it also sealed a $12bn deal to supply F-15 fighter jets to Qatar. This bizarre dichotomy in its stance is beyond the logical reasoning. It looks like an intentional act to pit the two sides against each other. One cannot rule out the fact that the US is trying to bring the Arab Spring that began in 2010, now to its logical conclusion.

Last but not the least, a disintegrated and disheveled Middle East will impact all and carries global implications. War and bullying is no option and the major powers must play their responsible role to bring the two sides to the negotiation table and find a diplomatic solution of this situation. Staying distant and letting the Middle Eastern countries deal with the crisis on their own might not be a very wise course of action.

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Sadia Kazmi

Sadia Kazmi works as a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad. She is a PhD candidate at the National Defense University

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