The Qatar diplomatic crisis continues to generate headlines. I want to very briefly revisit the topic and add a few thoughts.
Firstly it has played out very closely to how I initially envisaged it would here. I had mentioned that Al Jazeera was one of the contentious issues that has greatly irked the Saudi Arabian leadership. I wasn’t surprised when one of the demands from the Gulf countries was that Qatar shut down Al Jazeera. This was a ridiculous demand to make public (in this case Qatar was given a written list of demands so it was always going to reach the public). It would be impossible for the US (often Saudi Arabia’s key ally) to endorse this demand. Qatar has correctly rejected this.
I also believed that Iran would publicly back Qatar and that this blockade would actually push Iran and Qatar closer together. I maintain this has happened. However I underestimated Turkey’s appetite for diplomatic involvement in the Gulf. I think Saudi Arabia did as well. Erdogan’s tour of the Gulf this week may force the Saudi Arabia, UAE and the other states to tone down their demands or even discreetly end the blockade (UAE’s decision to allow Al Jazeera back on the domestic television today could be the first step). Furthermore Kuwait has made public calls for dialogue in a less aggressive manner.
The one prediction I will add is that the increased dialogue between Qatar-Iran and Qatar-Turkey may eventually lead to Qatar becoming the broker in any regional Syrian agreement. There may be enough key players at a negotiating table that involved Russia, Iran, Turkey and Qatar. A Syrian peace accord that excluded the Saudis would be a huge blow to their regional prestige. However this is purely speculative at this time.
Finally I see the crisis ending within the next two weeks. This is not to say that all the restrictions will be lifted within this timeframe. This would be too much of a volte-face for the Saudis. I think there will be a number of steps and discreet announcements until the media interest finally subsides. It really was a poorly thought out decision to try and bully the Qataris into line in such a public and humiliating fashion. As I have mentioned previously diplomacy is the art of subtlety and nuance, not public puffing out your chest and making unrealistic demands. There's quite a similarity to how Madame May et al have started the Brexit talks. The UK was heavily criticized recently for selling arms to Saudi Arabia. It now appears evident they also traded notes on how to alienate yourself and lose friends with foolish demands with little understanding of your current plight or power...