Jun 19, 2017
On June 5, Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and Yemen, announced that they were breaking off relations with Qatar. In closing their borders and blocking Qatar's access to their airspace and territorial waters, they have imposed a real economic blockade, with powerful effects since Saudi Arabia provides Qatar with its only access to land routes.
This diplomatic crisis started after the summit in Riyadh on May 21, where Donald Trump called on the Arab countries to make a common front against Iran and ISIS. A few days later, Saudi Arabia accused the Emir of Qatar of having criticized the inflexibility of Saudi policy toward Iran.
The Saudis also accused Qatar of supporting Islamic terrorism. The Qatari monarchy has financed and supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, and jihadist militias in Syria. But on the other hand, Saudi Arabia promotes a version of Islam as fundamentalist as that of ISIS, and also supports, overtly or not, jihadist militias in Syria and elsewhere.
In reality, this crisis is one episode in the long history of rivalries that regularly erupt between the powers of this region. Because of its oil wealth, Qatar has the financial means to carry out an independent policy and seek allies against its powerful Saudi neighbor.
So in the current conflict Qatar has the support of the Iranian state, which has sent it food aid and has opened its airspace. The Qataris have also benefitted from the support of the Turkish president Erdogan, who announced his intention to defend the "brothers and sisters in Qatar," a declaration accompanying the symbolic deployment of Turkish troops to Qatari territory. Turkey has found in this way the means of returning to the diplomatic game, at a moment when it is looking to find a cover for its military operations in Syria.
The United States seems embarrassed at the moment by this crisis which sets two of its allies against each other. The U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, called on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to lighten the blockade they've imposed on Qatar, and affirmed that it is helping with the fight against ISIS. The U.S. military has its most important military base in the Near East in Qatar at al-Udeid, from which the U.S. projects power over the Middle East and intervenes in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. acts like the policeman of the world. Being the major imperialist power in the region requires it to deal with the very rivalries that it has helped create and nourish in pursuit of its short term interests.