Dr Simon Mabon, lecturer in International Relations at the University of Lancaster and Daniel Pipes, US historian and President of the Middle East Forum, an American think tank on the Middle East, join the program.
Dr Mabon and Daniel Pipes say that there are many factors to be considered when trying to understand what is happening in Qatar. The Qataris have been active in creating relationships and funding Islamist movements that have been irritating to the Saudis and to others for about 25 years. Qatar has formed a close alliance with Turkey and has an open relationship with Iran, which irritates Saudi Arabia. The news agency Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar. Qatar is the only State outside of Saudi Arabia to have a Wahhabi outlook. The Saudis have long seen Qatar as a younger sibling, but have not reacted well to Qatar taking on a very active foreign policy of its own.
As regards the US’ attitude to what is happening in Qatar, Daniel says that US policy is difficult to understand. “On the one hand, we have the Secretary of State saying that we look forward to the crisis being resolved, and on the other hand we have the President saying that we are supporting the Saudis against Qatar. So, as is typical in the Trump era, we have a muddle of contradictions and nobody is quite sure what it all means.” Qatar, instead of returning to the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) fold, could quite easily turn to Iran and Turkey. “We have seen battle lines drawn up, fortunately, we have not seen an out and out conflict, but it certainly has the potential to escalate,” says Dr Mabon. “It seems that the US gave a bit of a green light to the Saudis to take this kind of action when Trump went out to the region he spent a lot of time with the Saudis and that sort of gave the impression that the US was implicitly condoning what would happen. But on the other hand, you see the US agreeing to sell various aircraft to the Qataris. This contradictory policy needs to be ironed out if we want to get a long-term solution to this problem.” The Saudis, apparently have just agreed to a massive arms package with the Saudis, Dr Mabon says.
Qatar’s alliance with Turkey is discussed in terms of the creation of a neo-Ottoman empire.
The issue of Qatar’s vast reserves of gas, which comes from a gas field that it shares with Iran, is discussed in terms of the tensions that this mineral wealth creates with Saudi Arabia, which buys 40% of its gas from Qatar. With the transition from oil to natural gas, Dr Mabon points out; the Saudis are going to lose quite a lot of influence over the Iranians. Daniel Pipes admits that we do not know the whole story about Qatar and that there may well be, in fact, far more going on than we are being told. Dr Mabon says that we have a very complex situation that can only be solved if all the parties involved come together to reduce tensions over the role of Islam, Iran, the role of the Americans, and a whole host of other factors. “It is quite a dangerous powder keg, and it would just take one spark and it could set the region off.” Daniel sees the Iranians as the likely beneficiaries of a war between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The situation is so complex, that even a degree in Middle Eastern studies will not help the observer to understand all the machinations in place.
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