A frosty relationship is tearing bond friendly nations in the Arabian Peninsula apart. The Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC; a political, economic and security alliance is facing a crisis of confidence, with treats of dissolution. Who stokes the fire is a rhetorical question that may not be answered in the near future. It is clear that a factionalised GCC is emerging and would not create a welcoming ambience for peace in the Middle East. The GCC is comprised of the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, UAE, Kuwait and Oman.
Many are asking why the largest country in the group Saudi Arabia may have decided to lead the blockade of tiny Qatar. Why is the oil and gas-rich Gulf state of Qatar in the heart of this controversy? Qatar has been accused of supporting Islamist groups in the region. It allegedly acknowledged providing assistance to the Muslim Brotherhood, but denied aiding militant groups linked to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, IS. The Shiite Muslim power of Iran is the main regional rival of the Sunni Muslim-ruled Saudi Arabia.
Qatar has been cut off by its Arab neighbours, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. These countries severed relations with Qatar in June this year and gave Qatari citizens 14 days to leave their territory and banned their own citizens from travelling to or residing in Qatar. Egypt, a Middle East North Africa, MENA country though not of the GCC, also cut diplomatic ties but did not impose restrictions on its citizens living in Qatar. Two states in the six-member GCC—Kuwait and Oman did not cut ties with Qatar but offered to mediate in the dispute.
On June 22, 2017, the four nations made a 13-point demand to Qatar on ending the restrictions. In July, the New York Times reported that the emirates committed their demands to six: combating terrorism and extremism, denying financing and safe havens to terrorist groups, stopping incitement to hatred and violence, and refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Qatar has relations with Iran with which it shares the world’s largest natural-gas field, the South Pars/North Dome field in the Persian Gulf.
Experts believe the United States want an end to the GCC crisis. Qatar hosts the largest American military facility in the Middle East, the al-Udeid airbase. They quote President Donald Trump on the Qatar emirate and the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has been on shuttle diplomacy in the region and signed a memorandum of understanding with Qatar on terrorism financing. Are the smaller members announcing their arrivals in the Middle East regional political and economic power play? The Qatari massive oil wealth and excess capital has enabled it invest massively to establish its own global influence. Qatar has used its oil wealth to adopt policies different from, and sometimes rivaling, Saudi Arabia’s.
But Qatar is dependent on basic needs by land and sea imports for its 2.7 million people. With the borders with the Saudis closed, and restrictions on access to ports in the UAE, Turkey and Iran are the alternative for food by sea and air.. Companies working on new stadiums and infrastructure projects for the 2022 FIFA World Cup had to secure new sources for building materials.
The GCC was formed in 1981 as the Iran-Iraq tanker war of 1980-88 spilled over to the Gulf States. In the tanker war, Iraq attacked ships carrying military supplies to the ground war front and Iran’s exports while Iran retaliated by attacking ships belonging to Iraq’s trading partners and to countries that loaned Iraq money to support its war effort.
The GCC states turned to the United States that had become a buffer in the Persian Gulf security. The GCC is significant for American interest for these reasons: one, 15 percent of the United States oil imports are from the GCC. Secondly, stability in the Arab Gulf region is critical to world trade, global transportation and regional military security. Thirdly, one third of internationally traded oil flows through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, linking the Persian Gulf with the Arabian Sea. The US led the coalition Forces ended the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in 1991.
The GCC members hosted the coalition forces to expel Iraq from Kuwait. Analysts believe that having subdued Iraq as a gulf power, America was ready to take on Iran believed to be a potential treat in the region. In the recent decertification of Iran in the nuclear deal, the United States accused Iran of supporting regional factions and governments that the GCC states oppose, such as that of President Bashar Al Asad of Syria, “Houthi” rebels in Yemen, Shiite militia forces in Iraq, and Lebanese Hezbollah. Another option is heading for Camp David. President Donald Trump is already tinkering with the idea. Stability in the Gulf region is critical to global trade and regional security.