The Saudi-Qatar crisis and why it matters

Saudi king Salman and Qatar's Emir Al Thani
Contributed by Joe Montero

As the division between Saudi Arabia and Qatar deepens, so does uncertainty in the Gulf and overall Middle East.

It seems that the main triggers have been some criticism of Saudi through the Qatari Royal family owned al Jazeera media outlet, particularly over military strategy in Yemen.

The other sore is that Qatar is talking to rival Iran, through its connection to Palestinian Hamas, which, like Iran follows the Shia form of Islam, while Saudi a version of Sunni. Qatar is Sunni as well, but a less militant version.

Jump in Israel, which has been pushing for the isolation of Hamas and its eventual destruction, because  Israel regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Donald Trump’s recent visit was used as a platform to push the anti-Hamas position and in the light of the new closeness with the United States, Trump has hit out at Qatar for being a supporter of terrorism.

This has suited the ruling Saudi royal family very well, which took up the cue to severe diplomatic relations with Qatar, dragging the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain with it. They have also imposed an effective trade blockade on Qatar.

Turkey, the government of which is having issues regarding what it sees as Western interference in its internal affairs has been drawing further away from American led strategy in the region, is now being drawn in on the side of Qatar and has already sent in troops. This adds a further dimension to the rising tensions in the region.

The developments stand to cause considerable difficulties to American strategy in the region. Qatar holds the biggest American air base in this part of the world, which is used extensively for its military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Both Saudi and Qatar are used as the principle conduits for material support for Islamic State and al Qaeda linked terror groups in Syria and other places.

The escalating rivalry between the two may well prove to pose as a formidable barrier against extending American influence around the region. It could conceivably provide an opportunity for counter forces, including that of the government of Syria, to strengthen their position. All Palestinian factions have moved to the defence of Hamas and popular regional sentiment against the roles played by Israel and the United States is strengthening.

In terms of global geopolitics, the longer this goes on, the more other countries will be pressed to make a stand. For Israel, this would mean a shift from Hamas and the Palestinians, through siding with Saudi. This may not be able to be achieved so easily, given the strong moral argument in favour of the Palestinians and Israel’s continued building of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory, coupled with aggressive collective military punishment against the Palestinian population.

American power politics strategy faces the dilemma of whether to continue developing the close working relationship with Israel, and this would mean to continue snubbing Qatar. This is a risky strategy that might force Qatar to rethink its position and move closer to Iran and Russia to protect itself. This would be a strategic blow to American ambitions. Losing Qatar or Saudi could compromise capacity to equip surrogate forces in the region.

The alternative is to work hard to bring its two traditional Persian Gulf clients together again. This would anger Israel and undermine American strategy from this angle.

Saudi and Qatar have one important weapon on their side and that is that each control a big part of the world’s oil supply and neither is afraid to use this for diplomatic leverage. Both have the means to block the Gulf, which is one of the most important trading routes in the world, because this is where the oil goes through. Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied gas, which is increasingly becoming a major strategic resource.

If the conflict should lead to the disruption of the oil or gas supply, it will have a negative effect in an already weak global economy. No country will remain unscathed.

Australia, being one of a handful of countries that follows the Americans into every conflict and constantly ally with that country in the diplomatic world is also stuck with a problem. Where is our government going to stand? The decision will have repercussions.


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