Seven countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, the UAE, and the Maldives) suddenly cut diplomatic ties with Qatar Monday morning, following longstanding tensions in the Gulf Region. This action has gone beyond simply having diplomats recalled, borders have been closed, and Qatari citizens will have two weeks to leave several of the countries, including Saudi Arabia.
This situation presents several challenges, for both Qatar and the international community. Almost 40% of Qatar’s food supply comes from their neighbor, Saudi Arabia, which additionally has much greater military capabilities.
Saudi Arabia led this coalition of nations, stating that Qatar is “adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, promoting the ethics and plans of these groups through its media permanently, supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups.” Riyadh has also encouraged other nations to distance their relations. Qatar, and their state-sponsored media outlet, Al Jazeera, have denied these claims. Tehran has come to the aid of Qatar, calling for greater dialogue, highlighting the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in geopolitical matters in the region.
This situation presents a unique challenge for the United States, as it has vested interests in both main parties, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The United States has a massive military presence in Qatar, with 11,000 personnel stationed at Al Udeid airbase. The base hosts over 100 aircraft, and has been crucial in US military operations in the region, including in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and against the Taliban in Afghanistan. US forces from the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines have all staged operations out of Qatar in the War on Terror since the base opened in 2003. The United States Air Force has stated that these diplomatic developments should have no effect on operations, and that they will continue to stage missions out of the base.
Following President Trump’s recent visit to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia pledged to increase their counter terror efforts, supported by a hundred billion dollar arms deal they entered with the United States. Their diplomatic action against Qatar can be seen as a sign of fealty to the pledge, but it raises tensions.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in geopolitical maneuvering in the region, and have been for years. Qatar is simply the latest flash point in this desert cold war.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stated that while Gulf cooperation should be sought, he understands why Saudi Arabia and other countries took this action.