A coalition of four Arab states – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt – have ceased diplomatic ties to Qatar, allegedly due to Qatar’s ties to Iran and its support of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result, land, sea and air routes to the tiny country have been cut off.
Qatar, which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and is home to some 10,000 American troops at a major U.S. military base, criticized the move as a “violation of its sovereignty.”
There is speculation that President Trump’s recent visit to the Middle East is the catalyst for this move. Bloomberg reports, however, “The spark for this flare-up was a report by the state-run Qatar News Agency that carried comments by Qatar ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani criticizing mounting anti-Iran sentiment. Qatari officials quickly deleted the comments, blamed them on hackers and appealed for calm.”
The effects of the diplomatic crisis are already being felt in Qatar, which is seeing its stock market tumble and its ability to import food compromised. Additionally, the four Arab nations are recalling their citizens and expelling Qatari diplomats.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he doesn’t think this will have a negative impact on global efforts to eradicate ISIS and other radical Islamist terror groups.
“I think what we’re witnessing is a growing list of disbelief in the countries for some time, and they’ve bubbled up to take action in order to have those differences addressed,” Tillerson said. “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences.”
Many are asking why the diplomatic break is taking place now, and the answer may lie in Trump’s recent foreign trip. Trump made a stop in Riyadh, and together with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz called out Iran as the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism. The four Arab nations may now feel emboldened to make such a move if they feel they have the tacit support of the United States.
For its part, Iran says this is “the preliminary result of the sword dance.”