The decision by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab nations to sever ties with Qatar on Monday reflects a long-standing dispute between Qatar and its regional neighbors. In fact, a similar fallout happened in 2014, but Monday's events mark a "severe escalation" that could eventually alter the balance of power in the region, per an analysis at the BBC. Nations aren't just pulling diplomats, they're cutting off land, sea, and air travel, and Qatar relies heavily on imports for its survival. Here's what's happening:
- Terror accusations: The official Saudi press accused Qatar of supporting "terrorist and sectarian groups" such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar denies supporting militant groups and says there's no "legitimate justification" for the moves.
- More broadly: "The feud—the most serious in decades among some the region’s most key Western allies—has been simmering for years as Qatar increasingly flexed its political muscle across the region, including backing the Muslim Brotherhood," per the Washington Post. The Saudis also accuse Qatar of backing its arch-rival, Iran.
- Bogus article? Two weeks ago, a Qatari news report quoted Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad as criticizing Saudi Arabia and praising Iran, among other things. Qatar later claimed its news websites had been hacked, but the article seems to have been a factor leading to Monday's actions, reports the Atlantic.
- Trump's visit: Another factor could be President Trump's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, notes the New York Times. Generally, analysts think the Saudis feel more emboldened under Trump, with one analyst saying the "moves reflected a 'bullishness' prompted by the Trump administration’s stances—on the confrontation with Iran and on a willingness to look the other way on human rights violations."
- US military: Qatar is home to the Al Udeid Air Base, where 11,000 US personnel are stationed and from which attacks on ISIS targets are launched, notes the AP. Trouble with the base could complicate US military strategy, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has offered to mediate.
- Big shift? The base, however, may no longer be enough to keep Qatar in the US' good graces, writes David Roberts at the BBC. Other Gulf states might offer to replace it. "The argument to President Trump may be compelling: with US help, Qatar might be persuaded to evict Hamas leadership from Doha and genuinely cut back on funding Islamist groups. It seems that the time of Qatar's individualistic foreign policy may be up."
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