Who is my friend? Who is my enemy? It’s no longer clear in the Middle East. Today the Saudi-led quartet which includes the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have boycotted Qatar, previously an ally. The wealthy nation state seems to have gained too much power and influence. Its Al-Jazeera news station, the quartet says, promotes “extremism” and even antisemitism said a top UAE official in a televised interview last week.
Qatar is accused of promoting “anti-semitic violence by broadcasting sermons by spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.” No kidding! Moreover, the quartet accuses Qatar of a “policy aimed at destabilizing security in the region.” Its increasing voice and financial influence even in Europe is threatening Saudi hegemony in the region.
Some have said the shifting desert sands are the result of the changing of the guard in Washington and evolved from Trump’s anti-terrorism conference in Riyadh. But more likely, Qatar has become more aligned with Iran and everyone in the Middle East fears Iranian expansionism. Buoyed by the nuclear deal in which it earned a bonanza of cash, Iran has strengthened its military assets, continues silently to develop its nuclear program and most disconcerting, practically rules Iraq, Syria and soon Lebanon through its affiliate, Hezbollah.
The Saudis have demanded that Qatar cut ties with Iran, but shortly after the severing of ties – Iran’s president called the emir of Qatar to reassure him that trade between the two countries would increase. With Iran now leaning on Israel’s back door through its encroachment with Hezbollah in the North, these two old enemies (Saudi Arabia and Israel) suddenly find themselves as frenemies.
In addition to the quartet’s criticism of Al-Jazeera, to the advantage of Israel, the Saudis went a step further on their Middle East course correction by outing Hamas. Its Ambassador to Algeria, Sami Bin Abdullah Salih, said last week in an interview that Hamas is a terrorist organization – “of course… it certainly is, if it seeks to create and cause problems.” Going further and taking aim at Qatar for its harbouring of Hamas leaders – the Ambassador went on to accuse the Hamas leadership of sitting in five star hotels instead of being one with their people and “trying to advance the issue.”
More significantly, The National, an Abu Dhabi UAE publication, reported recently that the Red Crescent Chief admitted that Hamas betrayed them: “Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip fired upon Israelis from the hospital they were operating at, provoking retaliation from the Israelis.” According to the article, this was contrary to the arrangement Red Crescent had with Hamas – but now it’s an open and long suspected admission (which benefits Israel) that Hamas uses human shields (even from hospitals) to gain international sympathy.
If as the saying goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” it’s clear that an accidental alignment between Israel and the Saudis is taking place. Perhaps there is a changing pragmatic attitude about Israel in general, which was reinforced last week by India’s Prime Minister Modi’s successful visit to Israel and their $2 billion trade deal. As one Arab newspaper put it – “Israel had achieved a series of victories without firing a bullet… Waves of extremism in the Arab world have caused untold calamities, creating a long bullet-list of issues and conflicts… this time Arabs did not feel only envy, but sensed utter defeat for failing to catch up with the developing world.”
For now, a frenemy is better than an enemy and perhaps it might even become a friend.