The idea to turn the peninsula nation into an island and transform its only land border into a military zone and nuclear waste site was revealed in state-linked Saudi newspapers.
President Trump just received the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, praising the Emir’s moves on terror financing. The New York Times reports that Qatar invested a lot in making this meeting happen.
The friendly visit represented a remarkable turnaround for a president who had once portrayed Qatar as part of the problem. But it reflected the success of an intense and expensive effort by Qatar and its paid lobbyists… to change its image in Washington and present it as a partner with the United States in the war on terrorism.
Why did Qatar need to change its image? Doesn’t the United States have a major military base there? Indeed, Qatar’s role in American military operations in the Middle East is quite significant, as SSG reported last year when discussing an earlier phase of the crisis in the Middle East. At that time, SSG noted that criticism of Qatar for supporting terrorism was a valid move for the administration to make. Qatar has long played both sides against the middle in an attempt to avoid facing either American wrath or the wrath of terror groups. Qatar’s ability to serve as a go-between for the United States with the Taliban, for example, shows that Qatar has relationships with both the United States and the Taliban. To a certain degree go-betweens like that are useful in diplomacy, which is why American support for Qatar’s strange position has always been strongest in the State Department.
Of far greater concern to Qatar’s regional neighbors is Qatar’s drift towards Iran, as the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Trump administration is scrambling to mend a diplomatic rift between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors and has grown increasingly worried that the emirate is drifting into Iran’s political and economic orbit, according to U.S. officials.
Such a shift, U.S. officials fear, would represent a major political realignment and a potential national security threat as Tehran challenges America and its Middle Eastern allies in the region, heightening the stakes of the Gulf dispute.
The shift towards Iran represents a serious danger to American foreign policy, as SSG reported last year: we have commitments to Qatar that would be very useful to Iran if Qatar could be turned. Yet while America’s President met with the Emir of Qatar, some of that Emir’s top leadership was in Iran to negotiate new economic deals.
Qatar’s fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) greatly object to the Qatar shift towards Iran. Iran has built up the naval and ballistic missile capacity to close what it calls “the Persian Gulf,” which would cut off the economic lifelines of almost all of the GCC nations. Qatar’s efforts to build itself a nest with Iran look like disloyalty to the rest of the GCC, which has responded with a blockade.
Indeed, this very week the Saudi efforts on that blockade appear to have sealed off Qatar’s land routes. The UAE’s Gulf News states that “the move could signify that work on the ambitious project to dig a tourism and commercial waterway alongside the 60km border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar could start earlier than predicted.” Put that way, the move sounds like a carrot to encourage the Qataris to better relationships with the Saudis.
The Associated Press put it differently.
SAUDI Arabia is considering a proposal to dig a maritime canal along the kingdom’s border with Qatar, in a move which is sure to escalate tensions across the region.
Emphasis added. The proposed nuclear waste site would be on Saudi Arabia’s side of the border.
Qatar is in a weaker position here than it may realize itself. The Iranians are not the only ones who could close what is also called “the Arabian Gulf.” Whatever you call it, the gulf is relatively easy to close given that its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz, is only 29 miles wide. Keeping it open in the face of mutually hostile powers is the hard part. Closing it is potentially in the power of either Iran or the GCC. The Saudis can also isolate Qatar by land.
In addition to that, the Iranian economy into which Qatar is tying itself is weakening. There has been a massive flight of capital from Iran in recent weeks. Iran’s attempt to impose a lockdown on exchange rates immediately failed as people scrambled to convert Iranian money into dollars. SSG’s sources report that Iranian social media is furiously discussing the collapse. (#دلار)
The United States has troops on the ground in Qatar, and the bases we use there remain useful. The Trump administration is offering them a way out, but America’s regional allies are unlikely to be satisfied if Qatar continues its double game. Ending support for terrorist organizations is only one part of what it will take to satisfy the rest of the GCC. To satisfy America’s allies in the region, Qatar is also going to have to stop playing both sides between Iran and the West.