Just a few weeks ago, in June 5, the Persian Gulf region was thrown into a political crisis when Saudi Arabia and its allies decided to cut ties with the State of Qatar and enact a blockade to the small island nation after accusing it of financing extremists in the wider Middle East region. Today, Sheik Khalim bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, the foreign minister of Bahrain, one of Riyadh’s allies, accused Doha of escalating the military crisis prompted by the previous incident.
He further added that the current crisis between the Arab states and Qatar was to remain within the scope of diplomacy and “security-oriented,” adding that the arrival of armored vehicles from foreign nations was an escalation of Doha’s making, the agency Reuters reports.
Such remarks come after Turkey has deployed additional troops, including 100 aircraft with supplies, to the military base it has in Qatari territory in support of Doha’s government. Ankara has supported Qatar ever since the crisis began, and the President Recep Erdogan has even repudiated the ultimatum made by Riyadh and her allies last Friday, declaring it to be “unlawful” and “against Islamic values.”
Said ultimatum has 13 points to which Doha has to comply to, including ending the presence of Turkish troops in its territory, the scaling back of its interactions with Iran, terminate contacts with so-called extremists and the closing the news network Al-Jazeera. The Qatari government was also given ten days to comply or be forced to deal with unspecified consequences.
To Saudi Arabia, a country with tightly controlled social media, Al-Jazeera is seen as a propaganda tool for extremists. The Qatar royal house has also shown sympathy towards the Arab Spring movements, a stance heavily criticized by Riyadh. Furthermore, the Saudis have in the past accused Doha of financing terrorist organizations, especially those aligned with Shia movements and Iran, an accusation the conservative Sunni Qatari monarchy has staunchly denied, according to the Newsweek.
Although the situation seems to have come into being rather suddenly, the truth is that the current political environment in the Middle East is rather complex. Essentially, there is a three-way conflict developing between Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey for the control of the region. This conflict is not new but has been bolstered by the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, which saw all the local state actors being involved in one way or the other.
It should be noted that Iranian and Turkish forces are operating in Syria and Iraq, and the military of Saudi Armed and its allies are also facing Iranian-supported actors in Yemen. Furthermore, Western powers have also been dragged into the conflict.
The Mediterranean is one of the most important sea routes in the history of Humanity, and the most powerful nations of all eras always tried to have ports in its shores so they can use the influence and revenue they create. Teheran and Moscow have interests in acquiring or keeping such ports through the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, hence why they are exercising influence and military might there.
NATO-aligned powers would prefer for that not to be the case and have sole influence over the Mediterranean, which leads them to try to foment alliances with the nations around the sea. For them, a Russia and Iran-aligned Syria is not ideal. However, such are the minutiae of global power struggles.
Qatar stands on the Persian Gulf, and while distant from the Mediterranean, it is also placed between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The rich reserves of fossil fuels have made it into the country with the greatest income per capita in the world, making it no real surprise that it would be dragged into this geopolitical tug-of-war. The United States themselves have their largest military base in the Middle East in Qatar, and have been following the situation closely.
During the last couple weeks, Qatar has become increasingly dependent on Turkey for food and other supplies ever since the blockade started in early June. This can be used by Ankara as an opportunity to further extend its influence in the region.
The presidency of Erdogan has been accused of foregoing the Western-style principles that Turkey has embraced since the era of Attatürk, which prompted a distancing from Europe, exchanging it for an approach to the wider Muslim world. The growing importance of Ankara in the politics of the Middle East can be seen as a result of these efforts. According to Reuters, Erdogan recently stated that his government had even approached Saudi Arabia to build a military base within its territory, but has received no answer.
Within this context, the demands of the Arab states may be seen as the tracing of lines in the sand. As reported by the Telegraph, Anwar Gargash, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, said that the result of the crisis with Qatar might be “a parting of ways.” Meanwhile, the Qatari government has classified the 13 demands as unreasonable and remembered their role in the fight against the Islamic State.
Nevertheless, the situation between Qatar and the Saudi block remains tense, and the time given to Doha keeps ticking away.
[Featured Image by Petros Giannakouris/AP Images]