By Iran Review
By Hossein Ajorlou*
Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries, which have cut their relations with Qatar after accusing Doha of harboring terrorism, have given a list of demands, requiring the Qatari government to meet those demands before relations could be restored. They also gave a ten-day period of grace to Qatar, which expired on July 3, 2017. Qatar, however, refused to meet their demands before the deadline. In reaction to this measure by Qatar, the four Arab countries issued a statement noting that they would take new measures against Doha in due time. Of course, the four-state Saudi-led alliance of Arab countries – which also includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – has been trying to use all means at its disposal in order to change Qatar’s behavior.
Qatar, however, has also its own means to counteract Riyadh’s measures, which include: 1. Strategic relations with Turkey, 2. Tehran’s positive view; 3. Support from the Muslim Brotherhood as an Islamist group; 4. suitable foreign exchange reserves, which amount to about 350 billion dollars; 5. A powerful lobby in Europe and the United States, taking into account that anti-Saudi groups are active in the United States; and 6. Increasing opposition from Europe to further escalation of this crisis. Every one of these tools and means can enable Qatar to resist and have maneuvering power in the face of demands put forth by Saudi Arabia.
The question, which arises here, is what possible measures can be possibly taken against Qatar in view of the country’s potentialities as well as political, security, military and economic realities in the region? The most important of these measures include:
1. Expelling Qatar from the Saudi-led coalitions: A possible measure to be taken against Qatar is to expel it from those regional coalitions, which are led by Saudi Arabia. They include the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, the Peninsula Shield Force, the Persian Gulf missile defense system, and the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism. However, it must be noted that if Qatar is driven out of these coalitions, it would disrupt some of joint political, security and military measures taken by them and may even lead to total collapse of those coalitions. As a result, Saudi officials, as leaders of these coalitions, have been trying to handle this issue with a lot of care.
2. More alignment of the United States with Saudi Arabia and its allies: Another possible measure that can be against Qatar is more alignment of the United States with Saudi Arabia and its allies and putting pressure by Washington on Doha to give up. If the leaders of Saudis and the United Arab Emirates succeed to attract more support from the United States over this issue, this country enjoys political, security and economic tools to mount pressure on Qatar. For example, the United States can threaten Qatar’s assets and investment in all parts of the world under such excuses as Doha’s financial support for terrorism and as such, Qatar would have no choice, but to submit. However, in addition to future decisions made by the United States and the need to forge a global consensus, this possible measure would also greatly depend on the power of lobbies operating on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as opposed to the power of pro-Qatar lobbies. This is true because both sides spend hefty amounts of money on this issue and have powerful lobbies in the United States.
3. Military conflict: One of the possible measures against Qatar is a military conflict between these countries and Qatar. Such a conflict can be limited to dealing blows to locations that are subject to the two sides’ disputes – such as Al Jazeera television network – or may involve a more extended conflict in order to topple the Emir of Qatar. This option has been brought up by some political and security circles in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However due to political and security realities in the Persian Gulf region, the fragile consensus on the issue of the military conflict, and possible opposition from oil and gas consuming countries, which want to head off new oil crises, its probability is quite low.
4. Changing the Emir of Qatar: Another possible measure to be taken against Qatar is to change the country’s emir through coup d’état or even assassination of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Due to historical backgrounds of such measures in Qatar, the issue of coup d’état has been always a focus of attention since the beginning of the crisis. This is true because there are many people in Al Thani family, including Sheikh Abdelaziz bin Khalifa Al Thani, who is the France-based uncle of Sheikh Tamim and has extensive relations with Saudi Arabia, and Sheikh Saud Bin Nasser Al Thani, the famous Qatari dissident, who consider themselves as worthy of ruling this rich Persian Gulf sheikdom and also enjoy support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Although such a measure will be desirable for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, its possibility dims as the ongoing crisis becomes more protracted. Of course, the role played by security forces loyal to Sheikh Tamim as well as Turkish military forces based in Qatar in staving off this possibility should not be taken lightly.
5. Making an effort to achieve some sort of agreement: Another possible measure, which can be taken with regard to the crisis in Qatar, is an effort by both sides to achieve an agreement. This possibility becomes more powerful when one takes into account the fact that the government of Kuwait and some European and American countries have been doing a lot of work to make this possible. For example, the following instances can be mentioned in this regard:
- A trip by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the West Asia region and his meetings with Qatari, Kuwaiti, Turkish, and Saudi officials followed by signing an anti-terror agreement with Qatar;
- An effort made by Kuwait to hold a meeting on the resolution of the Qatar crisis to be attended by heads of ten Arab and Western countries, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, the United States of America, Turkey, Egypt and the UK.
On the other hand, countries involved in the Qatar crisis must be convinced to agree on a reconciliation on the basis of their political and security exigencies. Under the present circumstances, the possibility for such reconciliation is low due to the intensity of differences between the two sides and heavy demands put forth by Arab countries that have imposed sanctions on Qatar, but it will delineate a brighter outlook for the resolution of the crisis.
On the whole, if Saudi Arabia would succeed to get Qatar in line with its demands again, this would turn into a strategic model for Saudi Arabia to be used with regard to other nonaligned countries in the region, including Oman, Kuwait and the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the opposite, if Qatar could succeed to go on with its resistance, it would deal an irreparable blow to Saudi Arabia in the area of foreign policy and this can turn into a model against Riyadh.
The foreign policy apparatus of the Islamic Republic of Iran must take this point into account that the crisis in relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia has been a spontaneous opportunity for the Islamic Republic of Iran without Tehran having to do anything in this regard. Through smart management, the Islamic Republic of Iran can help Qatar withstand pressure from Saudi Arabia without getting remarkably involved in this crisis, because the blockade and isolation imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have made Doha in need of finding new vital space in order to get out of the current dire straits. On the other hand, at the present time and while in these dire straits, Qatar has no other choice, but to boost political and security contacts, even at a low level, with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
* Hossein Ajorlou
West Asia Analyst