Why Are the Gulf States Turning on Qatar? The Biggest Split in the Middle East Since the Gulf War

Qatar responded saying it is facing a campaign of lies and fabrications aimed at putting the Gulf Arab state under guardianship, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with it

A map of Qatar is seen in this picture illustration June 5, 2017
A map of Qatar is seen in this picture illustration June 5, 2017 REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed their ties with Qatar on Monday in a dispute over Doha's alleged support for Islamist groups fomenting terrorism, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a political enemy.

This exceptional move came after reports of statements attributed to Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim Bin-Hamad, according to which he objected to the hostile attitude adopted by Gulf States and the U.S. against Iran, “a great state that contributes to regional stability”. He also allegedly stated that Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brothers are not terrorist organizations but resistance movements - also declaring Hamas to be the only legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people.

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Qatar has denied that its ruler made that statement and claims that hackers broke into the Qatari news agency website and planted those quotes. This is a new kind of cyber war, says Qatari spokesmen and commentators, which strives to tarnish Qatar’s name. They claimed that this was a conspiracy between the U.A.E. and a pro-Israel lobby working in Washington alongside former senior administration officials.

It stems from disputes between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. The battle of leaks and hacking produced an interesting drama, after a series of emails allegedly exchanged between the U.A.E. ambassador in Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a research institute that was founded and is funded by, among others, Sheldon Adelson and Edgar Bronfman, as well as other Jewish millionaires.

This is a neoconservative institute that was established after 9/11 and which enjoys excellent relations with Netanyahu and senior officials in the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli government.

According to the leaked emails the United Arab Emirates and the Foundation exchanged ideas and opinion regarding ways of handling Qatar due to its support of Hamas and Iran. Ambassador al-Otaiba, who is considered one of the most influential and well-respected figures in Washington is fostering strong links with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. He reportedly also had connections with Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer.

These new leaks are trying to deflect the political drama in the Gulf away from blaming Qatar and towards the UAE, which is described as coordinating its actions with Israel or at least with a pro-Israel lobby that is supported by Israel.

Fallout from the rift

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic and consular relations with the state ofQatar and will close all ground, sea and air ports to forbid transit, state news agencies said.

It was not immediately clear when these measures would be implemented. Saudi Arabia said it would "begin immediate legal measures with friendly, sisterly countries and international companies to implement that measure as quickly as possible for all types of transit from and to the state of Qatar."

Abu Dhabi-based Ethiad Airways said it would suspend flights to and from Qatar on Tuesday.

The decision forbids Saudi, UAE and Bahraini citizens from travelling to Qatar, residing in it or passing through it, SPA said. Residents and visitors of those countries must leave Qatar within 14 days. Qatari citizens have 14 days to leave Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

Qatar has been expelled from a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

Egypt said it was also severing ties and would close its airspace and seaports for all Qatari transportation to protect its national security. It was not immediately clear whether it was expelling Qataris or had asked its citizens to come home. 

Impacts on the 2022 World Cup, which will be hosted in Doha, Qatar's capital remain unclear. 

Oil rose on Monday after top crude exporter Saudi Arabia and other Arab states cut ties with Qatar, driving up prices on concerns over increased tension in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain also closed transport links with top liquefied natural gas (LNG) and condensate shipper Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremism and undermining regional stability.

Qatar responds

Qatar said on Monday it was facing a campaign of lies and fabrications aimed at putting the Gulf Arab state under guardianship, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with it.

"The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications," the Qatari foreign ministry said.

It added that, as a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, it was committed to its charter, respected the sovereignty of other states and did not interfere in their affairs.