In June of 2017, Saudi Arabia led a diplomatic, economic and physical boycott of Qatar that continues to this day. The leaders of the boycott are Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, all allies of Riyadh.
When the crisis happened, many feared that it could trigger a Saudi military intervention into Qatar, a palace coup or a prolonged recession in Qatar. Ultimately, none of that has happened. Instead, Qatar has strengthened its relationship with Turkey and Russia, notably improved its relationship with Iran and managed to keep the US from doing anything to back up Donald Trump’s pro-Saudi rhetoric. The State Department remains officially neutral on the matter.
While Saudi Arabia issued a set of ridiculous ultimatums which essentially called for the end of Qatar’s national sovereignty, many felt that Qatar would have to capitulate in one way or another.
In the end, Qatar refused to capitulate and the ‘tarred reputation’ of being called a state sponsor of terrorism by Saudi Arabia, a country that has sponsored al-Qaeda and ISIS, simply has not stuck. Qatar, if anything, is the little sister to Saudi’s big terrorist brother.
Today, the situation in Qatar remains stable with Doha building new relations in Eurasia and further east, while retaining its North America and European allies.
At the same time Saudi Arabia is struggling with an internal purge combined with continued meddling in Yemen and a fresh round of political meddling in Lebanon which in the end, could hurt Saudi itself, more than Yemen or Lebanon.
Meanwhile Qatar has just about settled into its new status quo, while the old status quo in Saudi Arabia is in tatters.
What’s more is that Saudi Arabia kicking Qatar out of the anti-Houthi coalition in the dirty war in Yemen, has been something of a blessing for Qatar. Today, Shi’a Houthi rebels released the following statement:
“All airports, ports, border crossings and areas of any importance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be a direct target of our weapons, which is a legitimate right,” according to AFP quoting a statement released by the Houthi rebels”.
Had Qatar remained in the anti-Houthi coalition along with Saudi and the UAE, Qatari targets would have been on this list too.
It is still too early too tell whether Saudi Arabia’s talk of a further war on Yemen’s Houthi’s is a bluff or a sign of further aggression to come.
Geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko writes:
“There’s of course the chance that he’ll go overboard and escalate the War on Yemen through a renewed conventional military invasion in order to “prove” his anti-Iranian/-Shiite “credentials”, but this would be extremely risky right now because the Crown Prince’s power – and even very survival, it can be argued – depends at this very moment to a large degree on the loyalty of the armed forces, the most important issue for which is the disastrous quagmire in Yemen. The Saudi military doesn’t want to continue wasting money and lives on a campaign which already proved itself a failure almost right after it started, yet they’re caught in a dilemma over how to most effectively disengage from the conflict without being paranoid that Iran will gain the upper hand on their country’s southern doorstep soon thereafter.
At the same time, however, the War on Yemen has finally boomeranged back home to the Kingdom now that the Houthis have demonstrated their capability to launch missiles deep inside Saudi Arabia, so Mohammed Bin Salman is again caught in yet another double-layered dilemma over how he should respond to this. He can’t exactly order his military to charge back into the fray head-first and senselessly risk a rise in casualties which could in turn diminish the military’s support of his “deep state” (counter-)coup, but he also can’t ignore the missile strike on Riyadh over the weekend either, ergo the “middle ground” approach that he’s taken in tightening the blockade noose against Yemen in the hopes that this humanitarian blackmail can yield geopolitical dividends. Innocent people can still end up dying as a result, but nevertheless, their deaths would be “indirect” and not due to the type of all-out war scenario that people are most afraid of right now.
Another related explanation for Mohammed Bin Salman’s bellicose behavior is that he’s employing his own version of Trump’s “Mad Man” bluff in order to stave off any potential Iranian asymmetrical destabilization of his country at its most historically vulnerable moment. Sensing that Saudi Arabia is weaker than at any moment since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and consequent commencement of the proxy war rivalry between the two competing powers, Iran might be tempted to give its nemesis a “little push” with the hope that this might send the whole unstable house of cards collapsing into the sand and remove the Saud Monarchy from the pages of history, which might in a cynical (but speculative) way explain the curious timing of the Houthi missile strike on Riyadh precisely at the moment that Mohammed Bin Salman was executing his “deep state” coup.
To wrap everything up, the Crown Prince’s statements regarding Iran, Yemen, and Lebanon are very concerning and people are justified in worrying about Saudi Arabia’s future military intentions, but at the end of the day, the Kingdom has just undergone an unprecedented anti-oligarchic and Bolshevik “deep state” coup, and the armed forces are the only thing keeping Mohammed Bin Salman safe from the vindictive reprisals of the royal elite”.
Irrespective of what happens in the immediate term, Saudi Arabia cannot win the war on Yemen without committing to total war, something which would be deeply unpopular in both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
What’s needed is some sort of peace accord which would either result in a unity government in Sana’a or else, the re-dividing of Yemen into a Houthi dominated north with the Southern Movement and elements of the Hadi government ruling in Aden, the former capital of South Yemen whose days as the Middle East’s only Marxist-Leninist state seem far removed from today’s events.
The question is, who could broker such a piece? Clearly Iran which gives its political support to the Houthis would never be accepted by Saudi and the UAE as a peacemaker, but Qatar just might. Although Qatar remains mistrusted in many parts of the Shi’a Arab world, Iran has used the diplomatic crisis involving Qatar, to open up new channels to Doha. This could help win diplomatic respect from Houthi Arabs.
If Qatar were to come forward as an eventual mediator in the protracted crisis, it could enhance Qatar’s credibility on the international stage and send a clear message to Saudi Arabia that if Qatar is to be dealt with, it will need to be dealt with in a respectful way that respects Doha’s sovereignty.
Thus, one can envisage a scenario where Qatar steps in to end the war in Yemen which would also mean ending its dispute with a Saudi regime that cannot afford any more enemies, all the while also enhancing its relations with Iran.
In this case the ball is in Saudi’s court. By going to a peace conference in Qatar, one could turn a very nasty situation into a win-win situation for all parties involved, except of course those whose lives have been ruined by the Saudi aggression against Yemen. But diplomatically, it would help to calm a great many tensions and would help remove the frankly stupid Saudi propaganda line that Iran and Hezbollah are arming the Houthis, something which is objectively impossible due to the Saudi naval blockade. But removing the conflict form Yemen would remove the need to lie about it and this could only be a step in the right direction, however small.
If Saudi were to reject such a Qatari diplomatic overture, Qatar’s status quo would not change negatively, in fact, its status could still be partly enhanced. Furthermore, if an internal civil war breaks out in Saudi and there is a clear winner involved, Qatar just might be in the position to be the broker which ultimately causes one side to win and one side to lose, thus making Qatar king maker in Saudi Arabia, a country that still technically seeks regime change in Doha.