Friday, 9 June 2017

News from the Persian Gulf

Saudi Ultimatum to Qatar: Meet These 10 Demands in 24 Hours or Else


1. Immediate severance of diplomatic relations with Iran.
2. Expulsion of all members of the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas from Qatar.
3. Freezing all bank accounts of Hamas members and refraining from any deal with them.
4. Expulsion of all Muslim Brotherhood members from Qatar.
5. Expulsion of anti-[P]GCC elements.
6. Ending support for ‘terrorist organisations’.
7. Stopping interference in Egyptian affairs.
8. Ceasing the broadcast of the Al Jazeera news channel.
9. Apologising to all [Persian] Gulf governments for ‘abuses’ by Al Jazeera.
10. Pledging that it (Qatar) will not carry out any actions that contradict the policies of the [P]GCC and adhering to its charter.

Qatar Says "We Will Never Surrender", Welcomes Turkish Troops As Iran Offers Food, Ports


8 June, 2017

Even as the world's attention turns to the Comey testimony for the next few hours, the Qatar diplomatic crisis (where CNN's "report" of Russian hacking now appears long forgotten) continues, and moments ago a barrage of headlines from Qatar suggests that the small nation, which may or may not be preparing for military action, is happy to welcome the Turkish troops that will be arriving soon as reported yesterday, with its foreign minister stating that "we are not ready to surrender and will never compromise the independence of our foreign policy." Also, and perhaps even more critically, Qatar - whose foreign minister is set to fly to Moscow on Saturday- also announced that Iran is ready to help with food and that three of Iran's ports will be designated for use for Qatar.
From the wires:
  • QATAR FM SAYS IRAN SAID THEY ARE READY TO HELP QATAR WITH FOOD & 3 OF THEIR PORTS WILL BE DESIGNATED FOR QATAR: RTRS.
  • QATAR FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS WE ARE NOT READY TO SURRENDER AND WILL NEVER COMPROMISE THE INDEPENDENCE OF OUR FOREIGN POLICY: RTRS.
  • QATAR FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS TURKISH TROOPS COMING TO QATAR IS FOR THE SAKE OF THE SECURITY OF THE ENTIRE REGION: RTRS.
  • QATAR FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS WE RESPECT THE LNG AGREEMENTS WE HAVE SIGNED WITH THE UAE
  • QATAR FOREIGN MINISTER AL THANI: WE DON'T KNOW HOW THE RECONCILIATION WILL TAKE PLACE: BBG
There was a hint that Qatar can cripple its neighbors' energy infrastructure, if the situation escalates further:
  • QATAR FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS 40 PERCENT OF UAE POWER DEPENDS ON THE NATURAL GAS OF QATAR
As to the "ultimatum" issued by Saudi Arabia, and the demand list submitted by the Saudi coalition nations reported yesterday by the WSJ, Qatar appears to not have seen it yet.
  • QATAR FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS THERE ARE NO CLEAR DEMANDS YET, WE ARE WAITING FOR THAT
Meanwhile, Reuters on Thursday reconfirmed that Trump offered on Wednesday to help resolve a worsening diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Arab powers as the United Arab Emirates invoked the possibility of an economic embargo on Doha over its alleged support of terrorism.




In his second intervention in the row in as many days, Trump urged action against terrorism in a call with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, a White House statement said.
 "The President offered to help the parties resolve their differences, including through a meeting at the White House if necessary," it said.
Trump, in a later call with Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, called for unity among Gulf Arabs "but never at the expense of eliminating funding for radical extremism or defeating terrorism," the White House said.

At the same time, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told Reuters there would be more economic curbs on Qatar if necessary and said Doha needed to make ironclad commitments to change what critics say is a policy on funding Islamist militants.  He later told France 24 television that any further steps could take the form of "a sort of embargo on Qatar".

Gargash also told Reuters in an interview it would be very complex to disentangle the "very diverse" business ties between Qatar and its neighbors but suggested this might be necessary.
"You cannot rule out further measures. We hope that cooler heads will prevail, that wiser heads will prevail and we will not get to that."

"Tensions are still high and mediation efforts by fellow Gulf Cooperation Council state Kuwait have yet to lead to a concrete solution, so investors will likely remain on edge," said one Dubai-based trader.
We too hope that "cooler heads will prevail" and that the Qatar crisis does have a peaceful resolution, because the alternative - another Gulf military conflict - would make the daily news cycle, already overflowing with breaking news on an hourly basis, will become simply unbearable.
Foreign minister says Qatar has never experienced such hostility even from an enemy country.


Al Jazeera media platforms under cyberattack

Website and digital platforms of entire Doha-based network undergoing 'systematic and continual hacking attempts'.




The websites and digital platforms of Al Jazeera Media Network are undergoing systematic and continual hacking attempts.

These attempts are gaining intensity and taking various forms. However, the platforms have not been compromised.

Last month, Qatar's official news agency was hacked and false statements attributed to the country's ruler were posted that helped spark a rift with other Arab Gulf states.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and several other countries cut their ties with Doha on Monday in part because of the comments briefly posted on the Qatar News Agency.

The fake report said Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in a speech at a military graduation ceremony, was critical of renewed tensions with Iran, expressed the need for contextualising Hezbollah and Hamas as resistance movements, and suggested US President Donald Trump might not last long in power.

A Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) team has been in Doha for the past week after the Qatari government asked the US for help following the security breach by hackers.

Qatar's Ministry of Interior said it will release the full findings once the investigation is complete, but did not say when that would be.





One of the perpetrators of the attacks in Tehran was detained, the authorities are in control of the situation in the city, Hossein Sheikholeslam, an adviser to the Iranian foreign minister, told Sputnik.

According to Sheikholeslam, one of the terrorists was killed by the guards some 100 feet away from the Imam Khomeini shrine. The law enforcers shot another assailant, who was wearing an explosive belt, some 50 feet away from the location.

"The police managed to detain the third terrorist alive," Sheikholeslam said.

Earlier in the day, the group of four people in women's clothes opened fire in the building of the Iranian Parliament, with a subsequent explosion. Another attack involving an explosion took place near the Imam Khomeini shrine.

The Iranian Justice Ministry said earlier in the day that at least 12 people were killed and 39 injured in the attacks on the parliament and the Imam Khomeini shrine, also in Tehran.

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Qatari foreign minister set to visit Moscow on Saturday





Iran has taken the position that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. On top of this, Iranian-Qatari cooperation over gas looms large.

Turkish troops and aid have arrived in Qatar, something that is not entirely surprising given Turkish President Erdogan being on a similar ideological page to radical groups directly funded and supported by Qatar. This includes the Libyan radical Islamist factions in Misrata and also the Muslim Brotherhood which is outlawed in Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia among others. Even Hamas has recently decided to distance itself from the Brotherhood in recent months.

Turkey also has a degree of economic ties to Qatar.

However, Iran’s announcement that it is ready to send food and other aid items to Qatar is more surprising in some ways.

Iranian forces have for years been forces Qatari funded jihadists on the battle field in Syria. Traditionally Qatar has been a regional opponent of Iran and its Salafist state ideology is anathema to that of Iran’s Islamic Republic.

However, there are two main reasons which at this time serve as the motivating factors for Iran offering assistance to Qatar.

Most immediately is Iran’s total opposition to Saudi Arabia which it blames (almost certainly correctly) for having a hand in this week’s ISIS attacks on Tehran. By siding with Qatar in this respect, Iran has taken the view that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, even though in this case Qatar has been an enemy of Iran and its proxies continue to be in Syria.

However, the second reason for Iran’s decision shows more long term thinking, although there are still inherent dangers.

Qatar and Iran geographically sit on the same natural gas field. With the Syrian anti-terrorist coalition winning the war against Qatari proxies, many have suggested that Qatar is seeking to pivot its ambitions from building a gas pipeline to Turkey which would run through Syria, to instead attempting to work with Iran on a joint gas venture.

The possibility of Iranian-Qatari cooperation is something that Iran’s sworn enemy Saudi Arabia takes very serious and indeed Riyadh readily admits that Qatar’s warming relations with Iran are a proximate cause for the Saudi led isolation of Qatar.

Crucially, with Turkey and Iran both seemingly siding with Qatar, Qatar’s isolation from the wider world is incomplete.

In spite of Saudi threats against Qatar, the Qatari Foreign Minister issued a defiant statement aimed at Saudi saying,

We will not permit any outside interference in our foreign policy”.

This comes as the Qatari Foreign Minister prepares for an emergency meeting in Moscow.

Moscow is clearly upset with the Saudi-Qatari spat, but will almost certainly remain fully neutral throughout the conflict. Moscow continues to retain normal relations with both Doha and Riyadh in spite of major policy differences as well as differences in over-all geo-political alignments.

Any idea that Russia is somehow ‘taking sides’ with Qatar should be seen as grossly exaggerated. That being said with Moscow open to hearing the Qatari perspective and with both NATO member Turkey and American adversary Iran clearly taking the Qatari position, it looks increasingly as though Saudi is becoming more backed against the wall than it had previously seemed.

Egypt’s spat with Qatar is grown out of direct animosity over the latter’s funding of the brief Muslim Brotherhood, not any grander ideological alliance with Saudi. Egypt remains distant from Turkey for the same reason.

The elephant in the room and it is a big elephant indeed is the United States which retains its largest Middle East base in Qatar.

We are now witnessing the odd spectre of Turkey breaking rank with the US over Qatar and also Iran defying the US presence in the Gulf in order to offer assistance to a wayward US ally.

The US could either shrug its shoulders and realise it lost this particular chess match or more worryingly, the US has allowed Iran to be drawn into the Gulf were realistically a war of some kind or another could realistically break out.

US proxies are fighting Iran in Syria and to some degree are fighting over influence in Iraq with Iran, Could the Gulf be the next hot spot for a US-Iran proxy war or worse?

Such a scenario looks more likely today than at any time in the recent or even distant past.

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