The diplomatic and economic blockade of Qatar by its neighbors has plunged the Middle East into further discord. On June 5, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates announced a complete boycott of Qatar, accusing the country of aiding regional terrorist groups. However, the primary reason for the condemnation is Qatar’s relationship with Iran.
The conflict has rapidly come to a head. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) gave Qatar a deadline of July 2 for meeting 13 demands, ranging from ending relations with Iran to closing down the Al-Jazeera TV station. Not one of the demands was ever likely to have been met; in fact, many of them were based on false premises about Qatar’s behavior to begin with.
Because Qatar complied with none of the GCC’s demands, the gambit’s lack of coherence is being laid bare. Without a plan B, immediate escalation is unlikely to transpire. Instead, it is probable that both sides will go forward for the time being in a state of mutual diplomatic paralysis. The GCC may apply additional token “sanctions,” but neither side is likely to back down soon; the stare-down will continue apace.
The Saudi-led group has made missteps from the start, beginning with pushing Qatar directly into Iran and Turkey’s hands by cutting it off with an economic blockade and thus requiring immediate food shipments from these countries. That, in turn, has created significant commercial benefits for Iran in addition to further solidifying the Qatari-Iranian diplomatic relationship. As such, the blockade is unlikely to result in Qatar’s returning to the GCC fold. Rather, it will essentially affirm that the new leadership in Saudi Arabia has a penchant for overplaying its hand.