Gulf crisis: Through Qatar isolation, Arab nations inadvertently pushing Doha closer to Ankara, Tehran

In a major development in the ongoing Gulf diplomatic crisis, Saudi Arabia and its allies on Monday said that they had decided to extend the deadline for Qatar to accept their list of demands to lift a de facto blockade by 48 hours. With the deadline expiring at midnight on Sunday, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt agreed to give Doha an extension to respond positively to their demands.

The move came after a request by the Kuwaiti emir who is acting as mediator in the Gulf crisis, according to a joint statement issued by the official Saudi SPA news agency.

The crisis began on 5 June after the Arab world blamed Qatar for supporting terror outfits like the Islamic State and maintaining ties with Iran — Saudi Arabia's rival in West Asia.

As a matter of fact, the crisis initially threatened to turn into not just a diplomatic stand-off but also a humanitarian debacle.

Qatar emir SheikhTamim-bin Hamad Al Thani. Reuters

Qatar emir SheikhTamim-bin Hamad Al Thani. Reuters

Food shortage forcing Qatar to find new allies?

Qatar depends on its Arab neighbours for 80 percent of its food needs, Reuters reported. The emirate, which has its only land border with Saudi Arabia, was forced to import food from sea and air, in the event of a blockade, to overcome a possible food crisis. It is here that Turkey, Iran and Oman have come to the rescue of the oil-rich nation.

Two days after the blockade began, Doha started talks with Tehran and Ankara to secure key food and water supplies. As noted by Al Jazeera, freight companies from Oman and Iran helped Qatar ensure no major shortages of food.

The humanitarian help provided by these countries during the blockade is now shaping the dynamics of West Asia.

A CNBC report said that the acute economic blockade will make Qatar look for new allies. "It can accelerate its relationship with Turkey and Iran, who have already said they are happy to help to compensate for the boycott," Amin Saikal, an academic was quoted by the report as saying.

Iran-Turkey-Qatar: An alliance in the making?

The first West Asian nation to come out in support of Qatar was its eastern neighbour Iran. Talking to Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on 26 June, President Hasan Rouhani had said, "Tehran stands alongside the people and government of Qatar and we believe that... pressure, threats and sanctions are not a good solution to solve problems between countries of the region," he said. Rouhani also added that the Tehran would seek to deepen economic ties with Doha.

Doha, on its part, did not budge under the pressure from its Arab neighbours and rejected calls for downgrading ties with Tehran. Iran's ties with Qatar are also underlined by economic needs, as Doha and Tehran share the world's largest gas field in the Persian Gulf.

It is not just Tehran which is warming up to Qatar. Qatar's isolation in the Gulf helped Turkey to enter the geo-politics of West Asia.

A report in the Jerusalem Post highlights how the Gulf crisis is helping Iran and Turkey to team up with the Qatar to counter Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, Turkey sent about 1,000 troops to Qatar for military exercises during the ongoing crisis. The latest development is the culmination of a 2015 military deal between the two countries, which was approved by the Turkish parliament on 8 June. Under the deal, Turkey has the right to deploy troops in the emirate.

The military deal, when looked through the prism of the the current crisis, seems the reason for Turkey's soft stance towards Qatar. As noted by the BBC, the military deal gave a clear message to the international community: Qatar is not alone.

"Let me say at the outset that we do not think the sanctions against Qatar are good. Turkey will continue and will develop our ties with Qatar, as with all our friends who have supported us in the most difficult moments," Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said on 7 June criticising the move.

An article in the National Herald pointed out how Qatar's growing alliance on Turkey and Iran is inadvertently isolating Saudi Arabia, as the economic blockade was neutralised by Tehran's constant food supply and Ankara's military maneuvering in Doha.

In the geo-political game in West Asia, it is the United States which seems flummoxed by the happening in Qatar. The US maintains an air base in Qatar — Al Udeid Air Base. However, President Donald Trump backed the blockade against Qatar. To confuse policymakers further, US closed a $12 billion deal with Qatar to supply 36 F-15 jets, at a time when the latter is getting closer to Iran.


Published Date: Jul 03, 2017 03:35 pm | Updated Date: Jul 03, 2017 07:17 pm


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