June 6, 2017    4 minute read

Persian Gulf Tensions: A New Middle East Crisis

An Isolated Qatar    June 6, 2017    4 minute read

Persian Gulf Tensions: A New Middle East Crisis

The situation in the Persian Gulf is dramatically complicated and affects oil prices, the conditions of travelling around the world and even the organisation of the World Cup. Five Arab countries have broken diplomatic ties with Qatar under the pretext of fighting terrorism, but one of the main goals is to show President Trump who really governs the region.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as Libya, broke all ties with Qatar, claiming that the support that Doha has given money to extremist groups, including the Islamic State.

In addition to “protecting national security against the threat of terrorism and extremism,” as the official statement states, Qatar is accused of destabilising the entire Middle East and enticing Iran to do so. Doha claims that the sanctions are unreasonable. In practice, it brings the closure of land and air borders with Qatar. Etihad airlines have already shut off UAE flights. Diplomats from Qatar have to leave the country in two days and the other citizens have been given two weeks.

Who Really Rules?

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calls on the countries of the region to resolve the dispute and preserve unity. However, it is US politics that is the cause of the current confusion, and in particular the resistance to the idea of normalisation of Arab-Israeli relations.

Donald Trump’s sympathisers point out that Israel and Saudi Arabia have a common enemy – Iran. Washington will support those countries in the dispute with Tehran for the price of normalising relations, which would even lead to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Such an approach is unlikely to be achieved without the unity of the Gulf States, however.

Raising tension with Qatar destroys the feeling of unity and undermines the chance to pursue a common policy. The tensions between Qatar and other Arab countries are not new, but it is part of the battle for Middle Eastern domination between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arabs of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Riyadh and Cairo also compete among themselves, but the Saudis and the Egyptians unite their hatred for Tehran.

The Role of Al Jazeera TV

The Sunni capitals of the Middle East accuse Doha of spreading propaganda through Al Jazeera, as well as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups throughout the region.

Al Jazeera closed its Cairo office in 2014 after a series of attacks and security rallies under the pretext of fighting the Islamists. Three Qatar television journalists, including Australian Peter Greste, have been sentenced to a multi-year jail sentence for supporting terrorism, then released and pardoned.

Qatar’s isolation will be of economic importance beyond the oil and gas prices. The small country alone does not affect the prices of raw materials, but turbulence in the Gulf always causes prices to rise. Regional stock indices reacted to today’s news with sharp falls. Doha is also one of the most important airports in the world, with about 37m people passing each year.

In 2022, Qatar will host the World Cup, and it is not known how today’s events will affect the preparation for this gigantic sporting event. The first stadium built for the event, Khalifa International Stadium, already opened on May 19th.

Iran’s stance

Hamid Abutalebi, the representative of the Iranian authorities said on Monday that the decision by some Gulf states and Egypt to break diplomatic relations with Qatar would not help to end the crisis in the Middle East. In his opinion, the result of such moves can be only instability.

Qatar and Iran have close ties. Both countries nourish their close business relationships, especially in the oil and gas sector. Investors get accustomed to the vulnerabilities of the region as the tension between the countries of the region is not new, and it is not clear at this time whether they will significantly affect the oil market.

It remains to be seen how this crisis will affect the markets in the long term.

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