Over the past few days, a bizarre set of threats and intrigue has beset the Sunni world. Last month, the Qatari national news agency released a statement from the Emir which predicted the demise of the Trump Presidency and expressed support for Iran, a Sunni rival.
Just after the article appeared it was renounced by the Qatari government, which claimed it had not produced the story or published it.
Qatar has a long, testy relationship with some of its Gulf neighbors because it sees itself as a mediator of conflicts in the region, rather than an instigator or participant in them. This rankles the new, belligerent ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Salman and his ambitious nephew, Crown Prince bin Nayef. They have laid out an ambitious plan to assert Saudi power in the region and beyond. This includes supporting a Yemeni civil war that has killed 50,000 people and brought mass starvation. The Saudis have also embraced regime change more fulsomely than ever now that they have a true friend in the White House. As part of the political calculus regarding Iran, the Saudis have drawn exceedingly close to Israel. All of which is music to the ears of Bibi Netanyahu’s pariah regime. He can now tell the world that he has Arab allies who love Israel and no longer care about the Palestinians. whether true or not hardly matters.
Saudi Arabia and all other Sunni states have cut relations with Qatar, closed their borders to over flights, and sealed their borders. Qatar is under siege and will have to develop some of the strategies Iran used to counter international sanctions.
The Sunni cabal is grievously angry that Qatar has offered a refuge both to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, including supporting the latter while it was in power in Egypt. Qatari media is alsoo harshly critical of the autocratic, corrupt governments in the region. So the Sunni states demanded the silencing of Al Jazeera, and smaller outlets like Middle East Eye and The New Arab [disclosure: I currently contribute to the former and used to contribute to the latter].
Saudi Arabia falsely charges Qatar with supporting terrorism inside the kingdom’s own borders (there is a restive Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province). It accuses Qatar of supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen with little or no proof.
The irony is that the Saudis are by far the largest purveyor of terrorism in the region. They’ve financed al Qaeda, ISIS, and other Sunni Islamist groups fighting in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. They were chief funders of Osama bin Laden and provided foot soldiers in the effort to take the battle to American shores on 9/11.
Saudi Arabia and its new bellicose leaders are a danger to the region. They seek to mold the Muslim world in their image, whether that world wants to or not.
Qatar, with a relatively small, but quite wealthy native population, is particularly vulnerable to its larger neighbor. It’s quite possible it could take military action and possibly overthrow the Emir. For this reason a chastened Qatar has sent Hamas leaders taking refuge there packing. Qatar has severely defanged Al Jazeera so that it is a shadow of what it once was. Will it shutter the media completely?
The Saudis don’t want an independent or even semi-independent media. They want state-controlled media. Thank God the Qataris feel differently.
So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017
…extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017
Unfortunately, Donald Trump has opened his big mouth in support of the Saudis. He’s bought the lie that Qatar sponsors terrorism hook, line and sinker. He falsely tweeted that the post-conference statement attacking funders of terrorism signed at the close of the Arab summit he attended was intended as a message to Qatar (Iran clearly was the intended audience). Besides, what the hell is s U.S. president weighing in on one side of an intra-Sunni dispute??
Finally, U.S. officials have confirmed to CNN that the Qatari news agency was likely hacked by Russian operatives who fabricated the story. Their goal was to sow division amidst the Sunni alliance against Bashir al-Assad’s Syria. Dividing it would strengthen Assad’s and Russia’s hand in Syria.
Today, Vladimir Putin is smirking in the Kremlin like the cat that ate the canary. Donald Trump has once again, perhaps unwittingly, mouthed Russian talking points; and Russia’s rivals are in disarray. All with a few thousand lines of computer code. It’s the hacking gift that keeps on giving.
In the meantime, another Sunni Gulf power suffered a damaging hack of its U.S. ambassador’s e-mail account. He is the UAE’s chief diplomat in Washington. Among other matters, it reveals that UAE has sponsored conferences with the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies advocating regime change against Iran. FDD’s director, in one e mail, cheers the coup against Erdogan and is delighted that the Turks have blamed both UAE and FDD.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.