The buddy-buddy vibe of Gulf countries working together in OPEC has served as a band-aid that has covered up friction between the monarchies for the past couple of years, but Qatar’s estrangement from five of its Arab allies has now brought regional tensions to a boil—and the fate of the South Pars gas field is now very much up in the air.
It’s all about Iran, on the surface. And timing is everything. On Wednesday night, two terrorist attacks in Tehran targeted the Iranian parliament and the tomb of its revolutionary leader, killing at least 17 people and wounding more than 40 others.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, which represent the first such attack by the terrorist group in Iran.
Two days earlier, on Monday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain all joined Saudi Arabia in its condemnation of Qatar as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Iran.
All in all, Doha’s politics has “harbored a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region,” read a statement by the Saudi Press Agency, which also encouraged all “brotherly” countries and companies to join the Kingdom in cutting all traffic to and from Qatar, and withdrawing its citizens. Qatar was also kicked out of the anti-Houthi coalition fighting in Yemen.
The Maldives and Libya’s anti-United Nations regime in Benghazi—itself considered to be a terrorist organization by some—joined the battle cry against Qatar’s legacy as a middleman between Iran and the Arab Middle East. The Qatari outlet Al Jazeera has taken to defending its home country’s “ambitious” diplomacy. An Iranian analyst of Gulf relations said in the article that the KSA and the UAE plan to “reign Qatar in,” forcing it to become “another Bahrain if you will,” in regard to its foreign policy efforts.
Qatar can only be so mean to Iran, and the Saudis know this. The two nations share the South Pars gas field – the largest in the world – in the Persian Gulf. Too much hostility could jeopardize the success of the massive project by discouraging foreign investment due to the volatility of the political climate.
Bahrain, a majority Shiite country with a Sunni leadership, has been bitter towards Qatar since Doha supported Iran-backed Arab Spring protestors who sought to topple the monarchy.
The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar runs deep, with Saudi Arabia and two of its Gulf sidekicks cutting ties with Qatar in March 2014 for its relationship with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, after the UAE jailed a Qatari citizen for leading what officials considered to be a wing of the “terrorist” organization. Related: OPEC Production Spikes – Has The Cheating Begun?
Sometimes a news article is all takes: an Al-Jazeera piece from 2002 that quoted dissidents to Riyadh’s absolute monarchy caused the Saudis to withdraw their diplomat.
The newest reports say Washington is ready to play a role in mediating the fraught ties. Analysts say President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, during which the leader condemned Iran as the world’s most prolific state-sponsor of terrorism, fueled an increase in political capital for the hardline anti-Tehran factions in Riyadh.
For Saudi Arabia, the moment Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al Thani called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to congratulate him on his re-election late last month, shots had been fired.
But this whole shindig could just be a ruse to strengthen U.S.-Saudi ties. If the Gulf nations could give Trump the satisfaction of resolving a faux dispute, he might be disposed to increase American imports of fuel from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.
The abandonment of Qatar has not led to ground-breaking developments in energy markets. Oil prices have continued their downward trend this week as Gulf nations accuse each of other of sponsoring terrorists.
This isn’t good news for Saudi Arabia– a country gearing up to sell part of its $1 trillion oil company to fund a full-scale economic upheaval. A quick resolution to the regional spat would be a good way to keep Trump’s interest in Saudi oil, which would excite investors looking for a juicy return.
By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com
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