Qatar has come under a far-reaching boycott at the hands of the most powerful Arab governments for taking Iran’s side against its Sunni Arab fellows. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirate and Bahrain announced early Monday, June 5, that they were breaking off diplomatic ties and all land, sea and airports contacts with Qatar. Their nationals were told to sever business ties and quit the emirate, while Qataris were given 48 hours to leave those countries. This is the most serious diplomatic crisis to hit the Arab world – and split the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – in many years.
Qatar and its Al-Jazeera TV channel have long been a thorn in the sides of Doha's Arab fellows, accused of hosting and providing a platform for terrorist groups and extremists, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. However, as DEBKA Weekly revealed in its June 2 issue, the last straw which prompted this unprecedented Arab retribution was the intrigue hatched by Qatar’s ruler Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to abort the US-Saudi initiative for establishing a Sunni alignment against Tehran.
President Donald Trump showcased its establishment during his visit to Riyadh on May 22.
A week earlier, the emir sent his foreign Minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani to Tehran to carry his scheme forward. He was received on the spot by the Iranian powerhouse, Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iranian forces in Iraq and Syria. They put their heads together on a plan for torpedoing US operations in the two conflicted countries. They also discussed Doha’s reward for its cooperation.
Qatar’s rulers had no qualms about scheming against Washington, even though America’s biggest air base in the Gulf region is located at Al Udeid southwest of Doha, their capital. Neither did the emir skip warmly shaking hands with Trump in Riyadh.
The Qatari rift with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt finally burst into the open shortly after President Trump ended his Middle East trip. On May 25, an article in Qatar’s state-run news agency quoted the emir as criticizing the US, Saudi Arabia and their “client states” for attempting to stir up tensions with the “Islamic power” – Iran. Qatari’s foreign minister was also quoted as announcing the withdrawal of its ambassadors from Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Later, Doha claimed the agency had been hacked and those statements were never made. But the row continued to escalate nonetheless. Saudi media accused Qatar of “betraying” its Arab brothers, stabbing them in the back when they staged groundbreaking events to demonstrate their unity.The Saudis, Egyptians and the UAE then blocked Qatari websites and broadcasters, including Al Jazeera, from their territories.
Behind the public recriminations, our sources reported that King Salman, Egypt’s Abdel-Fatteh-El-Sisi and the UAE ruler Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan delivered a firm ultimatum to the Qatari emir. He was warned of stiff penalties unless he toed the line and did the following:
1. Broke off all military and intelligence ties with Tehran.
2. Abrogated all the agreements he reached with Tehran – not only with regard to Syria and Iraq, but also other Arab countries, especially Libya.
3. Cancelled all the benefits and asylum arrangements Qatar extended to anti-Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood activists and deported them forthwith.
4. Severed Qatar’s ties with the Palestinian fundamentalist Hamas group ruling the Gaza Strip and denied their leaders residence permits in Doha with their families. Last week, King Salman asked Egyptian President Abdul-Fatteh El-Sisi to refuse passage through Cairo for Hamas’ new political bureau chief Ismail Haniyah, who was planning to move out of Gaza and settle in Doha with his family. A few Hamas officials were given notice to leave, but that did not meet the ultimatum's main demands.
The Saudi-UAE warning to the Qatari emir did not specify the penalties he faced for disobedience. The virtual blockade announced Monday may be the first course. Our sources in the Gulf disclose that a small-scale military operation against a Qatari target might still be on the cards. Neither do they rule out the undercover agencies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE engineering a coup d’etat for unseating the Al-Thani clan in Doha.