Several Arab states led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have hit Qatar with a set of sanctions. They cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, suspended Doha-bound flights and closed the land border with the small peninsula-state. The sanctions were introduced at a time when a regional consensus on constraining Iranian influence from Yemen to Syria is sought for and the region is in full flames. A new intra-Gulf crisis with implications well beyond the Gulf would in no way work for the good of the region. Then who is the Qatar crisis, aimed at isolating Qatar and forcing the emirate to make concessions on a number of foreign policy issues, good for?
Israel was one of the first countries that opposed Mubarak’s removal, preferred Assad over the opposition in Syria and has been uneasy about what the so-called Arab Spring had to offer to the region.
An ardent opponent of popular movements during the Arab Spring and the archenemy of Hamas, Israel, tops the list. Israel was one of the first countries that opposed Mubarak’s removal, preferred Assad over the opposition in Syria and has been uneasy about what the so-called Arab Spring had to offer to the region. The current crisis has a lot to do with Qatar’s role in the Arab Spring, most notably its pro-Mursi stance, as well as its welcoming of Hamas leaders in Doha. Any step that helps Al-Sisi to consolidate its grip in Egypt, weaken Hamas’ regional standing and roll back the status quo ante would be good for Israel.
The UAE’s interference in political and armed conflicts across the region is not a secret. The coup in Egypt was bankrolled mostly by the UEA money; while the Emirates financially and militarily backed Hafter’s coup in Libya. No need to say, with Israel, the UAE has been the strongest anti-Arab Spring, anti-Brotherhood, anti-Islamist actor in the region. Their shady Palestinian protégé, Muhammad Dahlan, plans a spectacular comeback to Palestinian politics through a grand bargain with the Israelis. Hence, ostracizing Hamas, forcing Qatar to give up on Libya, Egypt as well as Islamic movements would be good for the UAE.
With Trump in the White House and rising pressure coming from Israel and the Gulf, supported to a certain extent by countries like Turkey, a new push against Iran’s regional influence is becoming inevitable.
Iran has been an interventionist force in the region via its regional proxies from Yemen to Syria. The Obama administration paved the way for expansion of Iranian influence in the region by turning a blind eye on the Syrian crisis, opening up Iraq for Iranian meddling (One must also give credit to the Bush administration here), and abandoning traditional allies. With Trump in the White House and rising pressure coming from Israel and the Gulf, supported to a certain extent by countries like Turkey, a new push against Iran’s regional influence is becoming inevitable. Iran may not be targeted directly; but its regional proxies (Hezbollah, Houthis and myriad militias in Syria and Iraq) are at the forefront. Considered as a major policy shift, the U.S. hit Iranian backed militias along with Syrian regime forces twice in Syria since the Riyadh summit last month. Also, the groups supported by Qatar have been fighting against Iranian backed militias in several fronts in Syria, while the Gulf mostly abandoned Syria and left the country unchecked benefitting none other than Iran and the Syrian regime. Superficial crises causing divisions within the ranks of the GCC, pressurizing Qatar to shift its endeavors in Syria, and losing the focus on the imminent threat of Iran’s expansionist policies would be good for Iran.
Except for the three states listed above, every single regional state, including the Saudi Arabia, will lose if the current superficial and avoidable crisis continues and deepens. In other words, the Qatar crisis is a lose-lose situation for everyone except Israel, the UAE and Iran.