Domino Effect: Where the Qatar Crisis Could Lead the Gulf

Iran has welcomed the decision of Qatar to return its ambassador to Tehran and resume the diplomatic relations. Tehran called this step logical and positive. In January 2016, Qatar, along with other countries of the GCC, withdrew its ambassador from Iran in protest against the attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and the consulate general in Mashhad. The attackers expressed their anger over the execution of the Shiite preacher Nimra al-Nimra. On June 5, 2017, four Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, decided to introduce sanctions against Qatar. Diplomatic ties were broken off; air, land and sea blockades were imposed. This is an unprecedented event in relations between the Gulf countries.

Qatari Ambassador was not present in Iran for 20 months. When the Qatari Ambassador was recalled, this did not surprise Tehran, because the emirate was required to implement the decisions of the GCC. Meanwhile, the return of the Qatari ambassador did not surprise Riyadh, because the blockade against the emirate could lead to a similar expected decision.

Qatar said that such a step "reflects Qatar's desire to strengthen bilateral relations with Iran in all areas." This means that the countries are to cooperate in the military sphere and on security issues. However, according to US media reports, "Doha notified Washington that the restoration of diplomatic relations with Tehran does not mean expansion of cooperation with Iran, it is only a demonstration of disagreement with Saudi Arabia."

Anyway, the step taken by Qatar confirms that Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani will not fulfil demands of the countries that imposed the blockade. So the task of the international community, including the US, to resolve the crisis in the Persian Gulf is even more complicated. The gap between Qatar and its neighbors is aggravating. Restoration of the Iranian-Qatari diplomatic relations only contributes to the escalation of the conflict, while most Arab countries urge Doha to fulfil the demands put forward against the emirate.

The Qatar Crisis: A Widening Gulf Wu Bingbing
After 100 days of the crisis around Qatar, it is evident that diplomacy is the only accepted way to handle it and more involvement of European and Asian major powers in the Middle East broadly and the Gulf specifically would be welcome, writes Valdai Club expert Wu Bingbing.

One can only hope that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will not exclude Qatar from the GCC as a retaliatory measure. At the same time, the forthcoming visit of the Saudi diplomatic delegation to Tehran and the gradual restoration of Saudi-Iranian diplomatic relations are announced. So one of the main demands for Qatar in the 13-points’ list (lowering the level of diplomatic and military ties with Iran) is losing its relevance.

Iran is still in no hurry to take advantage from the conflict between the Gulf countries and to send its troops to Qatar, as did Turkey, which strengthened its military base, al-Rayyan. However, Tehran opened its airspace for the Turkish Air Force and for food supplies to Qatar from Turkey.

Nevertheless, Iran counts on developing cooperation with Qatar in the field of security and defense. In this regard, of no small importance is the visit to Turkey of the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Major-General Mohammad Bagheri, during which not only the Syrian crisis was discussed. The fact is that Turkey badly needs Iran to develop cooperation with Qatar, where its military base is located. The Iran-Turkey cooperation can attract Qatar, and a new political-economic axis Russia-Turkey-Iran-Qatar can be formed, which will help weaken the US hegemony in the Gulf region and in the Middle East in general. It will be a powerful economic bloc, because Qatar, Iran and Russia have half of the world's gas reserves and are still competing on the world market.

Russia’s position in relation to the Qatari crisis is not very clear. Having received the Qatari leaders, Moscow so far decided to keep its neutrality. After the Qatari crisis began in June 2017, Moscow stated that the position of the four Arab countries which had announced the blockade of Qatar would not affect the Russia-Qatar relations. According to President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russia "does not interfere in the internal affairs of other states, including the Persian Gulf states," it values relations with these countries in general and individually. The Russian Foreign Ministry offered diplomatic assistance to Qatar, but it was not needed, since Qatar seems to be satisfied with Kuwait’s mediation. Undoubtedly, it is important for the Kremlin to maintain the status quo in its relations with the GCC. Saudi Arabia's actions to escalate tensions represent a threat to the balance of power in the region and harm Moscow's interests. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman actively equips the kingdom with modern weapons. There are growing concerns about a possible military confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is highly undesirable for Russia.

The position of Moscow is fundamentally different from the opinion of US President Donald Trump, who supported in his tweet the moves of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi against Doha. He wrote that "Qatar has been a funder of terrorism at a very high level" and called on other countries to fight against this phenomenon.

The Kremlin took a fairly balanced policy toward the Gulf countries, which takes into account both political and economic interests of Russia. It is important for Moscow to maintain relations with all the countries of the Gulf, so it supports the mediation efforts of Kuwait and Oman, which prevent the conflict from going into the open military confrontation phase.

Where the conflict between the GCC countries and Qatar could lead is not clear yet. The crisis may continue for several months more before the dialogue can begin, or it will be "frozen" for a long period. The imposition of blockade against Qatar was a strategic mistake by its authors. This will cause a domino effect, generating new crises in the Arab countries. In addition, this crisis casts doubt on the future of the GCC itself. This crisis marks the transition period experienced by the states and institutions of the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and the whole world. It is unlikely that in the near future the situation will stabilize and everything will return to its former course. Acting against Qatar under the "war on terror" slogan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt laid the foundation for future conflicts, which will be unleashed under the same pretext.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.