Qatar’s support for terrorist groups like Hamas and extremist preachers like Yusuf Al-Qaradawi – who is given airtime on Qatar state television – have come back to haunt the tiny, super-wealthy petro-emirate. In a significant escalation of Middle East tensions, a Saudi-led coalition of seven nations has broken diplomatic ties with Doha over Doha’s ties to terror.
On paper, Qatar is the wealthiest country in the world per capita. Qatari citizens enjoy a GDP per capita of $129,726 – the world’s highest. In fact, the country’s largesse has led it to support extremist groups around the globe from Palestine to Mali.
So far the anti-Qatar coalition includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and the Maldives. The three states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia) have all further announced an embargo on Qatar. All air-traffic has been canceled; food is piling up on the border with Saudi Arabia.
Food insecurity remains an issue for Qatar which relies on imports for all of its food needs. Of this, something like 40% of its food comes from Saudi Arabian imports
Much of that food is trucked overland from Saudi ports or from the United Arab Emirates. Qatar’s water situation is equally precarious. Qatar relies almost entirely on desalinization for its water supply. By some estimates Qatar’s stockpiles beyond desalinization would last barely more than a week. Another terrorism funding state, Iran, has pledged to step-up food exports to Qatar during the crisis.
In interviews given in Australia, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson downplayed the crisis and called for Gulf unity. However, the United States should see the recent Saudi-led push against Qatar as a legitimate response to President Trump’s call for Muslim nations to do more to fight terrorism.
In 2014, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain all withdrew their ambassadors. That crisis ended when Qatar pledged to shut down some of Al-Jazeera’s operations and to expel some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It’s not just that Qatar has continued its old behavior it’s that it has been even more brazen. Last month Hamas unveiled a new policy document in the Doha Sheraton which committed the organization to further terrorism against Israel.
Hamas is a proxy for Iran – enemy number one for the other GCC countries – and the Hamas conference may have been the final straw.
An embargo for the United States may be out of the question, running against the free-trade principles the U.S. traditionally supports. U.S. relations with Qatar are complicated by the presence of 10,000 U.S. troops who use the Al Udedid Airbase located a short drive from downtown Doha.
That doesn’t mean the U.S. can’t pursue a tougher line. Iraq was one of six Muslim-majority nations added to Trump’s travel ban. This was despite the fact that Iraq was a key partner in the fight against ISIS and home to a U.S. military presence. In fact, Trump is now calling for a “much tougher” travel ban and prefers the original executive order which included Iraq as one of the countries on the list. Perhaps a “much tougher” travel ban should also include a ban on Qatar?