Saudi Arabia-led consortium of Sunni Muslim countries appears to have adopted a policy of “strategic impatience” against Qatar for the “double game” it had been playing through its connections with extremist groups and Iran, a top Israeli intelligence official has said. Chagai Tzuriel, Director General of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry, said the renunciation of ties between the consortium and Qatar “was a long time coming” given that the oir-rich Gulf nation has been a “source of frustration” for “pragmatic” Sunni states. Though this tempest has been brewing for a while, the decision to cut off Qatar from, among other things, 40 per cent of its food supply “constitutes a dramatic change” in the policies of Saudi Arabia, which has until now worked to bring as many Sunni groups as possible into the fold, rather than pushing them out for bad conduct, Tzuriel was quoted by The Times of Israel as saying. The report described him as a veteran of the Israeli spy agency Mossad. In a swift move that surprised many around the world, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt all formally cut ties with Qatar yesterday accusing it of supporting terrorism and destabilising the region. Imposing tough sanctions against Doha, they cancelled flights to the country, blocked Qatari ships from accessing ports and removed its citizens from their territories.
Maldives, Libya and Yemen did the same against Qatar. Tzuriel told the news portal that Qatar is a US ally, hosting the US Central Command’s forward headquarters, but also has strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas, two groups for which Egypt in particular has no affection, and is believed to quietly support the Houthis, Iran’s proxy in Yemen’s devastating civil war putting it at odds with Riyadh. Indeed, the entire Muslim world and its conflicts are regularly seen through the lens of tensions between a Sunni Saudi Arabia and a Shiite Iran, the top official said. As a part of that fight, Riyadh has been working to bring the extreme “Muslim Brotherhood axis”, Turkey, Hamas, Qatar into its camp in order to take on “enemy number one” – Iran, he emphasised.
“An attempt was made [in the past] at reconciliation with Qatar, but it seems that today the Saudis and their allies have adopted a policy of strategic impatience and have decided to pressure Qatar to stop playing the double game it had been playing and to step up,” the top Israeli official stressed. The diplomatic earthquake on Qatar is likely to have a deep impact on its economy. With travel cut off, the Gulf nation that is surrounded by Saudi Arabia from three sides, will no longer be able to bring in the approximately 40 per cent of its food supply that comes through its land borders. Some even questioned the Gulf nation’s ability to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup if the diplomatic isolation continues.
According to Tzuriel, Qatar is a source of frustration for the Sunni camp not only for its connections with the radical Muslim Brotherhood and Tehran, but also for its popular, often critical, Al-Jazeera news network. However, recent comments attributed (potentially falsely) to the Qatari emir in support of Iran and Israel’s enemy Hamas seem to have been the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, triggering yesterday’s sudden fallout, he said. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was last month quoted by state media as calling Iran an “Islamic power that cannot be ignored and saying it “is unwise to face up against it”. Al-Thani was also quoted as saying that Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, was the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.
After backlash from other Gulf states, Qatar quickly denied that the Emir had made the statements, claiming the state media website and Twitter accounts had been hacked. Saudi Arabia and the UAE blocked Qatari media, including Al-Jazeera, the same day. “The drastic steps against Qatar may have also drawn from the tailwind the Saudis received, in their view, from [US President Donald] Trump during his recent visit to the Kingdom when he presented a tough position against Iran and placed the Hamas in the same category as [the Islamic State], al-Qaeda and Hezbollah,” Tzuriel told the news portal. Israel is said to maintain quiet interaction with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, reportedly including security cooperation, as their animosity of Iran increasingly takes precedence over their professed displeasure with the Jewish state over the Palestinian issue. Qatar has in the past expressed openness to maintaining trade ties with Israel and has hosted Israeli officials, although its hosting of Hamas officials keeps closer ties at bay.