The 10 days Qatar was given to submit to the demands of a Saudi-led bloc end on Monday, with no sign either side is ready to back down. Observers say the alliance — which also includes the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt — probably expected isolated Qatar to quickly kneel to its larger neighbor before the economic and social cost soared. That hasn’t happened, with leaders in Doha buoyed by their gas wealth as well as support from Turkey and Iran. Almost a month after it began, the Gulf’s biggest diplomatic crisis threatens to realign Mideast relations.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani described the 13 demands — including shutting Al Jazeera TV, downgrading ties with Iran and severing Muslim Brotherhood links — as so steep, they were “submitted to be rejected.” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says they’ll be “ very difficult to meet.” As the allies consider their next step, here are five options short of the military action most Gulf analysts consider very unlikely.
1. Stick with the status quo.
With Qatar already hit by a raft of punitive restrictions, the bloc could let Monday’s deadline pass without imposing further measures. Peter Salisbury, senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East & North Africa Program, considers that unlikely. He sees new punishments being levied against “more individuals, banks and other Qatari businesses not dissimilar to the sanctions imposed by the Americans on Iran and Russia.”
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2. Make trading partners take a stand.
The U.A.E. ambassador to Moscow, Omar Ghobash, told the Guardian newspaper on June 28 that his country was weighing such measures. “One possibility would be to impose conditions on our own trading partners and say, ‘If you want to work with us then you have got to make a commercial choice,”’ he was quoted as saying by the U.K. daily.
Doing so would be “very provocative and wouldn’t go down well with large partner-states like the U.S., Japan and the Europeans,” said Graham Griffiths, an analyst at global risk consultancy Control Risks in Dubai. Governments would protest actions that damage the operations of their companies, he said. Law suits and claims for damages could follow if international treaties were deemed to have been contravened. Qatar Airways is considering legal action to claw back additional operating costs after the Saudi-led action forced it to shut 52 routes and to divert other services, CEO Akbar Al Baker said last month.
3. Punish people, carriers visiting Qatar.
Tightening their embargo, the four nations could bar non-Qatari travelers who have Qatari immigration stamps in their passports, or non-Qatari carriers and vessels transporting people and goods to Qatar. That could “increase the cost of doing business with, and in, Qatar, particularly among Qatar’s international partners,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, said in an email.
The longer the standoff continues, and as more punitive measures are introduced, “the harder it will become to find a face-saving solution that can allow all parties to back away gracefully,” Ulrichsen said.
4. Force Qatar from Gulf Cooperation Council.
Attempts to evict Qatar from the GCC, the regional body created in 1981 to coordinate political and economic policy, would require the unanimous backing of all its five other members. That means winning over Oman and Kuwait, neither of which joined the action against Qatar: Kuwait’s emir is heavily involved in meditation efforts while Oman has stayed out of the spat entirely. Alternatively, Qatar’s membership could be suspended, which again would require a consensus.
5. Qataris abandon their leaders.
This seems far off. Qataris have shown a surprisingly high level of support for Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, according to Salisbury at Chatham House. The severity of the demands delivered to Qatar were seen as an attack on its sovereignty, he said.
“It does feels like an assumption was made that the U.S. and President Trump would take a stronger stand and the Qataris would fold relatively easily and that hasn’t happened,” he said. Still, conversations with people in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. suggest they are “bullish on their ability to continue to push Qatar to get what they want.”