Four Arab countries have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, further deepening a rift among Gulf Arab nations over the country’s support for Islamist terror groups.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early Monday morning, further deepening a rift among Gulf Arab nations over that country’s support for Islamist terror groups and its relations with Iran.
The four countries announced the withdrawal of their diplomatic staff from Qatar, a gas-rich nation that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and which is home to a major US military base. Qatari troops will be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia said.
They will also eject Qatari diplomats from their territories and plan to cut air and sea traffic. Saudi Arabia said it will shut its land border with Qatar, effectively cutting the country off from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.
Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier, is suspending flights to Qatar “until further notice.” Emirates, the Dubai-based carrier, and budget carrier FlyDubai have followed suit.
Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said there was “no legitimate justification” for the countries’ decision, vowing that its citizens will not be affected by the “violation of its sovereignty.”
Qatar’s Warming Ties with Iran
Even before Monday, Qatar appeared unperturbed by the growing tensions. On May 27, the country’s ruling emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, called Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to congratulate him on his re-election.
The call was a clear public rebuttal of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to force Qatar to comply with its policies against the Shiite-ruled nation, which the Sunni kingdom sees as its arch-enemy and a threat to regional stability. Qatar shares a massive offshore gas field with the Islamic Republic.
Qatar is also home to the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base, which accommodates the US military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops. It wasn’t clear if these recent developments will affect American military operations. Central Command officials and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Qatar’s Support of Terrorism
Saudi Arabia said it took the decision to cut diplomatic ties due to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region” including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS) group and groups supported by Iran in the kingdom’s restive eastern province.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry accused Qatar of taking an “antagonist approach” toward Egypt and said “all attempts to stop it from supporting terrorist groups failed.”
The tiny island nation of Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.
In Sydney, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he didn’t believe the diplomatic crisis would affect the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
US Urges Dialogue
“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.”
The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May that hackers took over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments from its ruling emir about Iran and Israel. Its Gulf Arab neighbors responded with anger, blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.
Reccurring Diplomatic Clashes
Qatar has continually faced criticism from its Arab neighbors over its support for Islamists. The chief concern is the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist political group outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it challenges the nations’ hereditary rule.
Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia fell out with Qatar over its backing of then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member. In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar over the rift. Eight months later, they returned their ambassadors as Qatar forced some Brotherhood members to leave the country and quieted others. However, the 2014 crisis did not see a land and sea blockade as threatened now.
Since then, Qatar repeatedly and strongly denied it funds terror groups. However, it remains a key financial patron of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has been the home of exiled Hamas official Khaled Mashaal since 2012.
Western officials have also accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front.