After Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar and at least five Gulf-based airlines announced they will halt service to the desert peninsula nation, the rift between Qatar and other Arab nations intensified Monday.
Saudi Arabia has developed a “Sunni coalition” in the region to curb Iran’s influence and being a Sunni-dominated nation, has long had tense relations with Shiite Iran. The Saudi effort is supported by the U.S. Qatar has close economic ties with Iran, including sharing a major offshore gas reserve and is predominantly Sunni and is a member of the coalition.
When he phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with congratulations on his re-election, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani roiled the Saudis last week.
Claiming the energy-rich monarchy is undermining stability in the region by supporting in the Iran-aligned militant groups, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen cut ties to Qatar on Monday. Two weeks tie to leave was given to Qataris living in and visiting their countries by authorities.
President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia and U.S. interventions for the rift were blamed for the rift by Iran’s National Security Commission chief Alaeddin Boroujerdi. Believing the U.S. will support actions against Qatar, the Saudis agreed to a lucrative, $300 billion arms deal that could have emboldened its leadership.
Qatar’s publication of a story that said Al Thani had called Iran “a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored” was the first hint of tensions boiling between the countries over two weeks ago. While Qatar’s state-linked media continued to publish the comments, the government said that its state-run news agency and Twitter account were hacked and the story was fake. Access to Al Jazeera and affiliated sites was blocked by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
Close ties to both nations is possessed by the United States. Qatar is home to al-Udeid Air Base and almost 10,000 U.S. troops and Saudi Arabia is the closest U.S. ally in the region. Qatar is scheduled to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a month-long international soccer tournament and the world’s most popular sports event and therefore it is no outlier to the West. It shares an underwater field with Iran and is also the world’s biggest producer of liquefied natural gas.
Qatar’s population of more than 2.5 million people is fed by supply trucks that roll across the border and Saudi Arabia has the only land border with Qatar.
The measures were called as unjustified and “based on baseless and unfounded allegations” by Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Claims of supporting militant groups in the region has been relentlessly denied by Qatar. But for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the country has drawn a cool reception by other Sunni nations. Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, is also primarily financed by Qatar. The U.S. and several other countries considers Hamas to be a terrorist group.
There has been a “growing list of some irritants” in the region in recent months, said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking at a news conference in Australia.
“Obviously they have now bubbled up to a level that countries decided they needed to take action in an effort to have those differences addressed,” Tillerson said. “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences, and we — 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) remains unified.”
(Adapted from CNBC)