Erdoğan played very well in difficult Gulf rift

Published 01.08.2017 00:19

To prevent a new cold war from emerging in the Gulf, President Erdoğan has played a significant mediator role in the Qatar row, helping the region to protect itself from the crisis

The Qatar rift started with grave threats after several Gulf countries and Egypt cut ties with Qatar in June. Many thought there would quickly be a coup in Qatar or another move that would threaten Qatar's sovereignty.

While the bloc dominated by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt launched a large blockade and embargo on Qatar, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah assumed the role of mediator. Nevertheless, the bloc chose to raise its harsh rhetoric against Qatar and increase its threats, relying on the support of U.S. President Donald Trump, who shared just a couple of tweets after he sealed a $350 billion weapons deal with the Saudis.

Kuwait delivered a far-reaching list of 13 demands to Qatar for the country to fulfill in return for the lifting of the blockade, which was rejected at the end of the deadline. The leaders of the four countries who gathered in Cairo a while ago conveyed a message insisting the list of demands be met. This made us think that the blockade front would keep pushing with further steps, albeit rather foolishly, as we know that from past experience with the bloody coup staged in Egypt in front of the eyes of the world; and we are almost sure that they would not avoid violating international law by taking advantage of the current situation in the Middle East. But that did not happen. Why?

Today, a new cold war has emerged in the Gulf and it looks as though it will not turn into an escalating conflict as initially feared. So long as the Gulf front does not step back, the tension could last for years. According to several Arab experts, it was Turkey's steps that prevented a possible hot conflict in Qatar. Two points have been stressed. First, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Turkey right after the outbreak of the rift. Zarif's visit was perceived by the Gulf as more than symbolic – a substantial message in the Arab world after they could not get support from Western countries led by the U.S. The Gulf bloc has a fear that Iran could invade Bahrain, which is already having trouble with its Shiite opposition that it is trying to suppress. The second key development was Ankara's move to fill the gap, exporting food to keep supermarket shelves full, and the ratification of a law to fast-track the deployment of Turkish troops to a new military base near Doha. By this means, Ankara alone changed the course of events.

As is well known, although he posted several tweets at first, Trump and the rest of the U.S. administration, remained silent along with almost the entire Western world in a wait-and-see who is going to win policy. After Ankara's steps, we had also seen some Western states suddenly making statements calling for the crisis to end as soon as possible. Probably, the phone call between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Trump, which focused on the Qatar issue, according to reports, showed the White House Ankara's determination regarding the issue. So, did the Gulf bloc rely on a photo of them with Trump and think that they had bought him with a $350 billion arms deal? It looks so.

The Gulf bloc, which did not have a plan B other than pinning its hopes on Trump, both lost their reputation and control of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in this game. In short, they were penny wise and pound foolish. They targeted Qatar's prestige, but their own prestige was also harmed in the following results.

U.S. intelligence recently leaked information that the UAE was behind the hack of Qatar's official news agency and social media sites on May 23, paving the way for the crisis. This development may be interpreted as a message from Washington to the UAE and Saudi Arabia: Do not trust us, we can let you down.

Another important development is that the four countries that wanted to see Qatar on its knees announced lately that they would not insist on the fulfillment of the list of 13-demands, such as the closure of the Turkish base, and that they wanted to reach an agreement on six broad principles on peaceful terms, such as commitment to combat terrorism and extremism in all forms, prohibiting all acts of incitement and all forms of expression that spread, incite, promote or justify hatred and violence and commitment to all the outcomes of the Arab-Islamic-U.S. summit held in Riyadh in May 2017. In other words, they went hunting with a big appetite, but they were caught unaware.

It looks like Erdoğan's two-day trip to Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia last week after the storm will shorten the crisis. Although details of the trip were not made public, I think we will see the outcome in the coming days.

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