Is There a US-Saudi-UAE Plan to Topple Qatar’s Emir?

The anti-Iran pact US President Donald Trump struck with the Saudi, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab Sunni rulers in May was widely expected to have its first major impact on the Syrian conflict. This did not happen – for reasons laid out in a separate item in this issue. Instead, a major rift sprang up among the Gulf and allied Arab governments, with the Saudis leading a lineup against Qatar.
Reporting on the feud’s gathering momentum, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources this week picked up suggestions that contacts between President Trump, Saudi King Salman and the UAE’s Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had begun turning on the need to oust the Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim binHamad Al Khalifa.
The 33-year old sheikh has stood up to the ultimatum slapped down by the Saudi and UAE rulers to abandon his sponsorship of terrorist groups and cut short his persistent interaction with Tehran. Nevertheless, the US president invited him to the White House this week to sort out the quarrel separating him from his fellow GCC members.
But the Qatari emir never turned up, without any explanation being offered, either by US officials or Doha.
On Friday, June 9, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to be trying to pour oil on troubled Gulf waters. He urged Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to ease their air, land and sea blockade of Qatar, maintaining it was harmful to US military operations against the Islamic State terrorists, as well as causing humanitarian distress.
Tillerson was especially concerned about the blockade’s disruptive effect on the movements of US warships between Gulf ports and US military air traffic to and from the Al Udeid Air Base at Qatar, which is home to more than 10,000 US service personnel.
A few hours later, a different tune came from President Trump in person: Accusing Qatar of being a “funder of terrorism… at a very high level,” he demanded that “it stop immediately supporting terrorism, “ adding: “I’ve decided along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people. The time has come to call on Qatar to end its funding…”
Although there is no evidence that the White House directed Tillerson or the “great generals” and the Pentagon, to go into military action to force Qatar to stop funding terrorists, Trump’s reference to “generals and military people” resonated loudly in the palaces of Doha, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, as a threat to the Qatari ruler of military retribution if he continued to flout Riyadh, Cairo and the UAE.
According to another interpretation, certain Middle East military and intelligence circles took this as a hint by Trump to the Saudi and UAE that if their armies invaded Qatar, they could count on backing from the US forces based at Al Udeid.
Saudi Arabia has a long reckoning with the tiny Gulf emirate, which controls the world’s largest natural gas reserves, and often defies its bigger and more powerful neighbor. And the young emir is no stranger to the concept of a coup d’etat, considering he attained power himself by a palace putsch against his father.
So it did not take the Qatari ruler long to deduce, as he informed his close confidants, that the moment he boarded a plane to Washington, the two Arab armies would invade his island, leaving him the sole options of landing in the United States and spending the rest of his life there as an exile, or seeking asylum in Tehran.
Alternatively, he concluded, the Americans would refuse permission for his plane to take off home to Doha, leaving him a hostage in the United States.
Whatever the case, the Qatari ruler decided that his most prudent course was to ignore the Trump invitation and stay put at home in Doha. In the meantime, as the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad gave up on his attempt to mediate the Gulf feud, the military way out of the crisis loomed closer this week to realization.

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