Officially, the dispute between Qatar and three of its Gulf neighbours is over. But the formal declaration says nothing about foreign policy, meaning that intra-Gulf rivalries could continue to stoke conflicts and political tensions in the Middle East and Africa.
Originally published in POMEPS Studies
UN top court backed Qatar in dispute with United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt over air blockade. Following three-year anniversary of intra-Gulf dispute in June, International Court of Justice 14 July upheld International Civil Aviation Organisation’s decision to hear Qatar’s case regarding closure of airspace to Qatari civil aviation; Qatar Airways next day announced it will seek compensation for financial losses due to “illegal airspace blockade” and 22 July launched international arbitration against blockading Gulf states, seeking $5bn compensation for financial losses due to airspace blockade. Following meeting with FM Mohammed al-Thani, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook 26 July said blockade has “continued for too long” and was harming shared regional interests in stability and security. U.S. along with Qatar and five other Gulf states 15 July imposed sanctions on six targets accused of providing financial support to Islamic State (ISIS) leadership in Iraq and Syria. Qatari defence minister and Turkish counterpart 20 July met in Turkey’s capital Ankara to discuss bilateral security cooperation.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.
The questions for Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are: Was this the best way to signal their discontent? Was the decision to isolate Qatar the right one? And, perhaps most importantly ― what is the way out?
While a compromise [between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its allies] is possible, there currently is a stalemate because both sides are hearing the voices they want to hear [from the U.S.]
By virtue of their relative size (both geographic and financial), Qatar will always be weaker [than Saudi Arabia]. But not weak enough to make finances and business deals the decisive factor in this contretemps.
The rift between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates shows no sign of abating, at a time when the Middle East is increasingly polarised. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Second Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to play an active role in de-escalating a crisis that could exacerbate persistent regional conflicts.
Crisis Group’s second update to our Watch List 2017 includes entries on Nigeria, Qatar, Thailand and Venezuela. These early-warning publications identify conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.