Last week one of the most significant stories was the sudden break, or rather, apparently sudden break, of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, on the one hand, and Qatar on the other. In fact, Mr. J.D. and H.B. began what became a trend of people sharing the following articles with me:
If one looks at the Guardian article for a moment, it would appear that at one level, Saudi Arabia is in fact trying to take steps to minimize and distance itself from its hitherto traditional support for Islamic terrorist groups, in this case, the usual cast of characters, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, the Islamic state:
The small but very wealthy nation, the richest in the world per capita, was also expelled from a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
The coordinated move dramatically escalates a dispute over Qatar’s support of Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and its perceived tolerance of Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Iran. The dispute is the worst to hit the Gulf since the formation of the Gulf Co-operation Council in 1981.
Qatar’s foreign affairs ministry said the measures were unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions. As the Qatari stock market tumbled and oil prices rose, it accused its fellow Gulf states of violating its sovereignty.
“The state of Qatar has been subjected to a campaign of lies that have reached the point of complete fabrication,” a statement said. “It reveals a hidden plan to undermine the state of Qatar.”
Saudi Arabia said it took the decision to cut diplomatic ties owing to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region”, including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, Islamic State and groups supported by Iran in Saudi Arabia’s restive eastern province of Qatif.
Of course, behind this, there is the usual and to-be-expected reference to Iran and Iranian state-supported terrorism and groups. Qatar, though a Suni state, has been more "tolerant" of Shia Iran than Saudi Arabia would like.
If one were to stop there, one would have the impression that this is the usual Suni-Shia split manifesting itself once again, which of course, in a way, it is. But there are deeper players and stories lurking behind the scenes, and many people, when this story broke, were kind enough to to go digging and share their results. For example, Ms. K.M. found this story in Russia's Sputnik, and its implications, if one reads between the lines a bit, are stunning:
Note the following statement; the implications will immediately be apparent:
China is a footstep away from winning the tender for Phase 1 of the Middle Eastern 'Red-Dead' water project, launched by Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Israeli and Chinese experts have commented to Sputnik on how it could help Beijing to strengthen its presence in the region.
China National Technical Import and Export Corp. has been shortlisted for Phase 1 of the "Red-Dead" water project launched by Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The other four finalists are Hong Kong's Hutchison Water International Holdings, South Korean Korea Water Resources Corp., Japan-based Mitsubishi Corp. and France’s Suez International SAS. The results of the tender are to be announced by the end of June. (Emphasis in the original)
Some time ago I blogged about the fact that Middle Eastern stability was a necessary component for China's various Silk Road Projects to work. Of course, China is not so stupid as to place all of its chips in the perpetually risky Middle East. It is pursuing other silk road projects through central Asia and, of course, through its ally, Russia, much further to the north.
What's notable here is that China is dealing directly with two of the more stable nations in the region, Israel, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as well as the Palestinian Authority, for developing water resources. I am not, frankly, surprised that Jordan would court the Chinese. I am much more intrigued by Israel also apparently putting a Chinese firm on its short list for development, for a very simple reason: in the wake of the Paris summit, and last year's Brexit vote, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced what may be the quiet whispers in other corridors of power: the USA and UK have become "unrealiable" allies, and hence, Germany and Europe must assume a much more independent course. Now it appears that Tel Aviv is voicing similar concerns, though not so much in words as in deeds.
So how does this relate to the recent diplomatic developments with Qatar?
For one thing, I have no doubts the initiative originated in Riyadh. The real question is why?
Answer: it seems that, beyond Qatar's more open attitude toward Iran, there is something else in play, according to this article spooted by Mr. B:
Note, Mr. G. informed me in the accompanying email, the following:
Russia says 386 agreements for around 2 trillion rubles ($35.32 billion) were signed at a recent economic forum.
Representatives of business, international organizations and experts from more than 143 countries attended the gathering, Presidential adviser Anton Kobyakov said at a press conference on the results of the SPIEF-2017.
SPIEF is an annual Kremlin-run, high-profile gathering of business and political figures.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the event this year with India being the “guest country” of SPIEF-2017. Qatar announced its intention to be the guest country next year.
In other words, Qatar was making moves to become associated with the BRICSA bloc, and therefore, a participant at some stage in the Silk Road Project, and this, of course, would have expanded Iran's influence in the region.
What might come of this? The Saudis, again, may have stepped into a bear trap from which they cannot disentangle themselves, for all it will take, at this juncture, to compound their difficulties, is for China and/or Russia to extend humanitarian aide to that tiny country, and perhaps some "military advisors", in return for a seat at the table. That, of course, would be a risky venture, but seemingly no less risky than the new Riyadh unipolarism that seems to be emerging. And in this light, one has to wonder whether or not the whole Qatar venture was even floated - much less green-lighted - in Washington or London. There are of course many reasons to assume and argue that it was, for the action gives a context for the recent Trump-Saudi arms deal. Time will tell, of course, whether that supposition is true. But I cannot help but entertain the notion or hypothesis that it might not have been. London's and Washington's foreknowledge of such a break is not the same thing as green-lighting or even discussing it. And if indeed the Saudis initiated the action on their own, then they might have just been sucker-punched. I cannot, even while entertaining that high octane speculation, imagine that either London or Washington view the alternative - growing Chinese and Iranian influence in the region - with anything but a jaundiced eye.
But note, for the record, that the really odd man out in all these goings on, is Tel Aviv, and they, not Riyadh, will ultimately set the tone.
And notably, they're talking to, rather than confronting, the Chinese.
See you on the flip side...