Qatar’s split personality – home to US combat operations against ISIS AND financial hub for the financing of terrorism – suffered a devastating setback today when Saudi Arabia (KSA) ordered the expulsion of Qatar from the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC).
Showing solidarity with KSA, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Yemen’s Saudi-backed regime broke diplomatic relations and commercial ties with Qatar. The now-five-member GCC is reportedly pressuring its members to stop financing terrorism at the request of President Trump.
The banishment of Qatar makes for an awkward relationship for the US. The US military’s largest Persian Gulf base is located in Qatar and it’s home to the US-led air campaign against ISIS.
Despite the stunning move by the Saudis, spokesman, Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway stated, “We have no plans to change our posture in Qatar. We encourage all our partners in the region to reduce tensions and work towards common solutions that enable regional security.”
Navy Captain Jeff Davis, Pentagon spokesman said: “I will only tell you that we have, with regard to our bases there, continued presence in our operations.” He said the Defense Department is keeping an eye on Qatar and “would encourage all of the parties involved to work together. We hope for a quick resolution and we have no intention of altering our current operations, not only in Qatar but anywhere in the [Gulf Cooperation Council]. That includes important bases we have around the region, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain,” he concluded.
The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered his diplomatic resolve from Sydney Australia suggesting it (Qatar’s expulsion from GCC) would not interfere with America’s effort to defeat ISIS. “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences. If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] remain united.”
Secretary of Defense (ret.) Marine General James Mattis added, “All of those parties you mentioned have been quite unified in the fight against terrorism and the fight against Daesh, ISIS, and have expressed that most recently in the summit in Riyadh.”
The news of Qatar’s expulsion sent shockwaves. According to the Saudi state news, KSA decided to “exercise of its sovereign right guaranteed by international law and the protection of national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.”
Another statement released by the Kingdom accused Qatar of “harboring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region.” After all land air and sea contacts were severed with Qatar KSA “urged all brotherly countries and companies to do the same.”
Following suit on Monday was Egypt who said it severed ties with Qatar because they supported terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar seemed dumbfounded by the news. Its foreign ministry spokesperson said, “It regretted the measures by the Arab nations. The measures are unjustified and are based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact.” The regime said the decision would “not affect the normal lives of citizens and residents. The aim is clear, and it is to impose guardianship on the state. This by itself is a violation of its [Qatar’s] sovereignty as a state.”
An advisor to Qatar, Andreas Krieg, also an assistant professor of defense studies at King’s College London said, “This is a major escalation and I don’t think there is an easy way out of it. The Qataris have been hosting so-called outlaws for a long time and I don’t see them turning around and saying tomorrow: ‘Hamas, out! Muslim Brotherhood, out!’ You can’t kick them out overnight.”
Saudi Arabia claims Qatar has been “financing, adopting and sheltering extremists.” The Emirate nation allegedly has ties to designated terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, and ISIS.
Hedging their bets, two member nations staying out of the GCC fray, Oman and Kuwait said they haven’t broken ties with Qatar and are hoping for a quick solution.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, called for all Middle East nations to discuss the issues and resolve the dispute. “We see the stability in the Gulf region as our own unity and solidarity. Countries may, of course, have some issues, but dialogue must continue under every circumstance for problems to be resolved peacefully. We are saddened by the current picture and will give any support for its normalization.”
KSA’s sudden axing of Qatar, the only other Salafis Sunni nation, appears to be related to President Trump’s meeting with Saudi King Salman. On Tuesday the President tweeted; “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” In another tweet, he said; “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. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
While not commenting further, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did say that the president’s tweets are considered official statements and that his boss will continue to use Twitter because it is the way this president can talk directly to his 110 million social media followers.
Meanwhile, not one to let Trump do all the tweeting, the deputy chief of staff to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Hamid Aboutalebi tweeted regarding Yemen: “The era of cutting diplomatic ties and closing borders … is not a way to resolve crisis … As I said before, aggression and occupation will have no result but instability.”
But the real winner here is President Trump. The businessman turned politician understands the “art of the deal” and realized a way to stem the tide in the Middle East was to break up alliances and focus on the money. The next move rests with the Qatar regime. Will it stick with the insurgents or seek other alliances?
The real paradox here is that Qatar has been a major purchaser of US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and was considered a player in the isolation of Iran militarily, diplomatically, and economically. Qatar and KSA are major purchasers of billions of dollars worth of US weapons through FMS, yet their direct support of ISIS, a terrorist group, means Qatar and KSA meet the definition of state sponsors of terrorism and should be banned from participation in the FMS program. Nevertheless, the end user certificates and export licenses are routinely approved by the State and Defense Departments, including an $11 billion sale to Qatar. (The Pentagon has refused multiple efforts to release the end-user agreements to this reporter as requested under FOIA.)
Furthermore, Qatar, KSA, and Kuwait are listed as Tier 2WL (Watch List) and Tier 3 under US anti-trafficking in humans reports, which require a waiver by then President (Obama) stating the sale is in furtherance of national security interests. To the outside world, the US ostensibly appears to be violating its own anti-terrorism and anti-trafficking laws to provide sophisticated weapons systems to these human rights violators.
If this all seems off kilter, then you understand the Middle East. The US diplomatically moves to isolate Qatar from its natural allies in the GCC in an effort to stem the funding of terrorism, while it operates combat missions against Qatar’s beneficiary, ISIS. Politics do indeed make for strange bedfellows.