Pointing to Doha’s ties to terrorism and the need to maintain national security, Saudi Arabia and three other nations broke diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab state Qatar on Monday.
While the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha on Monday, Riyadh ended all land sea and air contacts with Qatar. The coordinated move adds accusations that Doha even backs the agenda of regional arch-rival Iran and dramatically escalates a simmering dispute over Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist movement.
With global benchmark Brent up 1.42 percent to $50.66 a barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate up 1.45 percent to $48.35 a barrel, crude and natural gas prices jumped after the news. There was a jump of 1.37 percent to $3.040 per million British thermal units in the price of U.S. natural gas prices quoted at the U.S. Henry Hub.
“It’s clearly an attempt to get the Qataris in line and not support Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Peter Sluglett, visiting research professor at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.
Sluglett said that since it enjoys support as an Islamist party among a broad base, the governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are all wary of the Muslim Brotherhood. Trump administration’s threat to review a landmark deal that lifted most economic sanctions against Iran in return for curbing its nuclear and missile programs is a key factor in the case of Iran, he added.
“The Americans cannot unilaterally back out of the deal as it is the P5+1 [permanent five members of the U.N. security council and Germany], so they are using the GCC and Egypt to put pressure on any countries supporting Iran,” Sluglett said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council, which counts Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman as members.
By pointing out that Qatar “is very heavily reliant on food supplies accessed” through Saudi Arabia, so a closing of the borders poses a “very” serious challenge to Doha, Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, responded on Twitter to the news.
In an apparent reference to its influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups and spreading their violent ideology, for its part.
“(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,” state news agency SPA said.
In its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain, Qatar is also accused of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants, the statement went on to say.
Criticizing some leaders of fellow Gulf Arab states and calling for an easing of tensions with Iran, a regional adversary, hackers had faked remarks by its emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Qatar had said in May.
But leaving local media to unleash a barrage of attacks accusing the emir of cozying up to Tehran, several Gulf Cooperation Council states rejected Qatar’s explanation.
The world’s largest gas field, South Pars, is shared between Qatar and Iran. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries at odds with Iran over Tehran’s support for Shia-linked militants and the commercial and business ties between the two countries have irritated them.
Doha is uncomfortable at times with a hard push against Tehran and Qatar’s dealings with Iran center on the gas field was noted by Sluglett: “They find it quite ridiculous to blindly follow U.S. views on Iran.”
“I wouldn’t think it would lead to bare-knuckle fighting, but I wouldn’t have seen the Saudi be so adventurous in Yemen either”, he however added and said that the possibilities of the tensions to escalate to conflict are unlikely.
(Adapted from CNBC)