Early Monday morning in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they are cutting all ties with Qatar. They are closing air space and sea ports to their neighbor. The most obvious reason is Qatar’s irresponsible—and today impractical—acceptance of terrorism, connection to Iran and promotion of destabilizing forces in the region.
While its neighbors are disowning Qatar because of its ties to terrorism, the U.S. actually has maintains ties with the small Persian Gulf nation. The U.S. has located its CENTCOM military base in Qatar since a 2003 agreement to with Saudi Arabia to move out of that country. More shockingly, the U.S. has relocated unreformed terrorists from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar over the last few years. In 2014, the Obama administration sent five al Qaeda captives to be hosted by Qatar in exchange for the release of Bo Bergdahl, the accused Army deserter. The Qatari government was tasked with watching the five al Qaeda men and ensure they did not return to terrorism, a questionable concept given the known support of terrorism which has come out Qatar. Qataris have been known to provide financial support for terrorist organization like Hamas.
It is no coincidence that this move comes just weeks after President Trump’s visit to the Middle East and his speech asking Muslim nations to actively fight global terrorism. The countries involved in this decision, all of which have faced terrorism themselves and/or seek good relations with the U.S., are trying to pressure Qatar to improve its behavior. They are also sending a message to the rest of the Middle East and Muslim leaders everywhere that they cannot allow the support of terrorism in their countries.
Some pundits speculated late Sunday night on Twitter that war might be on the horizon. This is just fear mongering. Qatar cannot fight a war with Saudi Arabia because it lacks the military personnel or the equipment to take on a regional power, let alone to cross the desert. Nor will Qatar join with Iran to fight its Gulf neighbors, because there is no benefit for Qatar to become a proxy state like Yemen or Syria. Most likely, Qatar will express self-righteous anger but find a way to comply with its neighbors’ requirements in several months so that relations can be restored eventually.