Qatar — Clear and Imminent Danger

The political and security tension developing in the Persian Gulf between Qatar and the Sunni states in the region — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the Emirates, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, and others — has the potential to ignite a global explosion. The features of this crisis hold many hidden elements, and it is only when the tension bursts into the general public’s consciousness that increasingly more layers of international intrigues and involvement in the evolving crisis become known.

The direct incident that ignited the First World War was relatively marginal, and few at the time expected its devastating outcome. On June 28 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by a Bosnian student, Gavrilo Princip.  As a result, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia, with impossible demands, which allowed Austria-Hungary to declare war. The slippery slope started there. Russia, Serbia’s ally, declared war on Austria-Hungary, the intricate system of alliances between various European states was activated, and triggered a violent outburst of internal European conflicts dating back to the 19th century.

Another element that contributed to the outbreak of the Great War was the conduct of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was crowned in 1888. The young German emperor steered a bold, perhaps reckless, course in foreign affairs and international relationships. He dismissed the Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who had navigated Germany to almost total European leadership. His dismissal culminated in the loss of most of his many political achievements such as the German-Russian alliance, which had prevented closer relationships between Russia and France. The Kaiser also decided, contrary to Bismarck’s opinion, to establish a naval fleet that would threaten the British Empire, which was still considered Queen of the Seas. Struggles over colonies in Africa were another source of conflict in world politics, and all of this, with the additional waning of the Ottoman Empire – created strange and convoluted alliances.

The conflict with Qatar is seemingly a small conflict over the inappropriate behavior of a small principality. But it is happening in a sensitive and volatile region, reminiscent of the atmosphere in Sarajevo on the eve of the First World War. Like Sarajevo, Qatar is not an isolated spot on the global political map, but a country with international affiliations and interactions. Because of its leaders, characterized by megalomania and a knack for manipulating most of the world powers for years, and due to its immense wealth, Qatar has increasingly provoked many countries, and has even dared to disrespect local powers in the belief that its connections with world superpowers would shield it and allow it to act as it pleased.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani was replaced by his son, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who became Emir of Qatar. The young leader was crowned at the urging of his mother, the Qatari ruler’s fourth wife, who convinced the king to abdicate the throne, and crown their son. And so, Tamim entered his small kingdom’s complex weave of intrigue and phalanxes with all his might. Rich Qatar demonstrated great competence in sophisticated politics, in bribing its way to pursue its interests, in branding itself as a capable power, with strengths and connections, thus continuing Sheikh Hamad’s politics of “we talk to everyone; this is good policy for a small state”.

Tamim does not see himself as the leader of a small state. He baited Egypt, embraced Sheikh Qaradawi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and enemy of President El-Sisi, and established ties with President Erdogan of Turkey, who is aspiring for the leadership of the Islamic Caliphate, in the hope he can join hands with Qatar in this role. He has established economic and other contacts, including sharing gas resources with the Islamic Republic of Iran. He has continued his control of the Arab communications industry by means of the El-Jazeera network, which has become a threat to the ruler of every Arab state. He has increased his control of global communications by purchasing media networks, newspapers and journalists. Tamim has branded himself as a leader with a Western worldview by purchasing famous football clubs, fashion industries, and impressive cultural and entertainment shows, on one hand, but on the other hand is in bed with terror organizations that dominate the world.

His actions vis-à-vis the West, like continuing his father’s policy by supporting Hilary Clinton’s campaign and his donations to the Clinton Foundation, huge weapons purchases to bolster the American weapons industry, and the economic power he demonstrates vs. European countries struggling with financial difficulties – have positioned him well on this front.

Not all of Sheikh Tamim’s connections have been revealed. Some lay at Qatar’s door the disinformation regarding Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, following which the US attacked Iraq, and in fact annihilated one of Iran’s greatest threats. Some believe that he holds the answer to the big question of how North Korea can fund its missiles and nuclear programs while it is on the verge of hunger, or to the mystery of Syria’s weapons arsenal, including a nuclear reactor.

Tamim bin Hamad’s arrogant and irresponsible behavior has turned against him the Gulf States, Egypt, and a row of other countries that have suffered from his support of terrorist organizations and countries that threaten their rule and very existence. The awakening of Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni countries is a storm, the waves of which could wash over the world from many directions. Many rivals in this story are also allies and competitors for the money and power of Qatar and its dominance of the international world of communications. Qatar’s elaborate ties with terror-enabling states allow it to mediate the release of prisoners and prisoner exchange, and to portray a misrepresentation of relative security to the countries that cooperate with it. Consequently, European countries are expressing concern over the threat to Qatar from its neighbors. Moreover, both Turkey, which sees Qatar as its partner in the leadership of the Muslim world, and Iran, which sees Qatar as a partner in its terror empire, are lending their support to Qatar in view of the imminent threat from its close neighbors.

The world is suddenly realizing that this is not a simple border dispute, but a deeper and more fundamental struggle between all concerned parties. In fact, Qatar presently stands behind a “Falsehood Curtain”, which has replaced the Iron Curtain between East and West during the Cold War, and the Bamboo Curtain that separated China and its satellite countries from the West. The Falsehood Curtain between Islamic countries and organizations and the West is woven and set with fata morgana, falsehoods and misrepresentations that deceive the world, some of which follows its illusions with fervor.

The tension between Qatar and the neighboring Arab world has the potential to break into a much more violent and dangerous conflict. But more importantly, any attempt to partially solve the Qatar problem will only serve to intensify future problems, and will provide it with the confidence to willfully maneuver world politics to improve its position. Qatar’s struggle to become a key actor, with or without partners, in the future world leadership as one of the influential countries in the 21st century, is happening now. The shots that have yet to be fired in this region are the first shots, which are slightly reminiscent of the shots fired in Sarajevo that kindled the First World War.

This struggle requires determination and courage, and eventually leaves no room for compromise. The world has already learned that conflicts that are not solved in the first act – tend to come to a much worse consequence at later stages. Ultimately, it endangers all of the actors equally.

Once the struggle with Qatar has started, it can end only with a clear resolution. Not ending it is the introduction to the next conflict, which will indisputably be bigger and more powerful than the one we see now.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center
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