Qatar and the Saudis – getting ready for the next round
Qatar and the Saudis – getting ready for the next round

Tensions are at an all time high between the four countries – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Emrates and Egypt – and Qatar, supported by the large, powerful forces of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Russia and Hezbollah. The four countries handed Qatar a list of 13 demands and an ultimatum: either carry them out to the letter or else. They have  since retracted them.

The following is the list of demands, with my comments in parentheses:

1.Qatar is to announce officially that it has lowered the level of its diplomatic representatives in Iran, close the Iranian diplomatic delegation offices in Qatar, cease all military and intelligence gathering cooperation with Iran. Commerce is permitted while adhering to the international and American sanctions as long as the trade does not endanger the Gulf states.

2. Qatar is to close the Turkish army base that is now under construction and end all cooperation with Turkey on Qatari soil, immediately.

3..Qatar is to break off all relations with "ethnic and ideological terrorist organizations" (i.e. Shiites), including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State (Daesh), al Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Syrian Jabhat al Nusra) and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Qatar is to declare officially that these are terrorist organizations, recognized as such by the list of terror organizations published by the Saudis, Bahrain, the Emirates and Egypt. It is to update the list in line with any list publicized by the four countries in the future.

4. Qatar will call a halt to funding of any kind to people, groups or organizations defined as terrorist by the Saudi Arabian monarchy, United Emirates, Egupt , Bahrain, the USA and other countries (can this be an allusion to Israel and its defining Hamas and certain Palestinian organizations as terror organizations?).

5. Qatar is to hand over "terrorist persons" fleeing the law, those wanted by the  Saudis, Bahrain, the Emirates and Egypt, to their homelands, freeze their funds and share any information Qatar is asked to provide about their residences, funds and movements.

6. Qatar is to close down al Jazeera and the channels it owns.

7. Qatar is to cease getting involved in the internal issues of sovereign countries, refrain from granting Qatari citizenship to wanted persons from the four countries and cancel those already granted under those circumstances.

8. Qatar will pay reparations for the loss of life and property caused by its policies over the past several years (how many?), with the amount to be coordinated with Qatar.

9. Qatar is to join forces militarily, politically, socially and economically with the Gulf States and Arab countries (i.e. no glutting the market with gas and oil so as not to cause a drop in prices that harms other Gulf States) in a way that is compatible with the (previous) agreement it signed with the Saudi monarchy in 2014.

10. Qatar is to hand over the names and details of those members of the opposition (organizations) which it supported in the past, break off all connection with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Egypt and Libya, and to hand over the files detailing its contacts with them and the aid provided them.

11. Qatar is to close all media channels it funds directly and indirectly.

12. Qatar must agree to all these demands within 10 days of their presentation or the list will be cancelled. (The document does not spell out what steps would be taken should Qatar refuse to accept these conditions.)

13. Qatar must agree to a monthly inspection (of the carrying out) of these demands during the first year after it agrees to them, and to a quarterly inspection during the second year. After that, an annual inspection will suffice.

A close look at the document presented to Qatar by the four countries shows that it contains three major demands: To cut off political relations with Iran; to exile all the subversives plotting against the regimes who presented the demands; shutting the media outlets managed or supported by Qatar, the most important among them being al Jazeera.

Qatar then claimed that it cannot accept the demands as they undercut its sovereignty. Qatar's reaction was surprising, to say the least, since all that country has done since the present emir assumed the reins in 1995 is to ride roughshod over the internal issues of other countries in an attempt to undermine their sovereignty by supporting organizations that oppose the current regimes.

The mediator between Qatar and the 4 country coalition is the Emir of Kuwait. He asked for the ultimatum to be extended and was granted two days that will end shortly after these lines were penned. Since then, the demands have been retracted. Still, the end results are hard to predict for several reasons:

The ultimatum did not spell out the measures that would be taken against Qatar should it refuse to accede to the document's demands and although it is far from certain that the coalition has the power to do anything beyond expelling  Qatar from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), there may be other measures it can take.. In a previous article I noted the  possibility that the Saudis invade Qatar and put an end to the al Thani family's rule, but this  might lead to a conflagration with Iran if it should decide to aid Qatar militarily.

A Saudi invasion must be coordinated with the United Sates, because the Saudis need US support for a step of this gravity so as to cause Iran to have second thoughts about joining the fray. The Saudis need US intelligence knowledge and military aid as well as the US  veto in the Security Council against resolutions that will be raised by countries such as Russia and Iran.

However, this is where US Secretary of State Tillerson comes in. He called the demands made of Qatar too extreme and the European foreign ministers agreed with him. Their declarations were broadcast non-stop by Qarar's al Jazeera

Tillerson's statements may be a result of his long term positive business relations with the Qatar regime in the field of energy, but he certainly dealt a sharp blow to Saudi Arabia's attempts to tame the Qatari shrew.

Erdogan came out for Qatar and joined the growing number of Arab and Islamic countries who have good relations with Qatar. That country has not changed its policies and continues to declare that it can withstand the boycott imposed on it by the coalition of four countries, forever, if need be. Qatar even announced that it is continuing to develop another gas field, something which can send the energy markets into a price downspin by flooding the market. This would harm Iran, but more importantly, immensely harm the Saudi economy.

On Wednesday morning, July 5th,  there was an announcement saying that Qatar had sent an answer to the ultimatum, but without disclosing its contents. The Saudi foreign minister said that  "the four states will respond to the Qatari answer in time" without providing any further details.

I believed then that had Qatar bowed to the ultimatum, the Saudi minister would have read its letter of submission proudly to the entire world. Since he did not, I tended to believe that Qatar refused to give in. That turned out to be the case, and that the Saudis held an emergency meeting with the other coalition members to decide their next steps, probably to increase pressure on Qatar while climbing down from the high tree upon which they stationed themselves.

Qatar refused and the Saudis retracted and that spells a great victory for Iran over the Saudis. The next steps the coalition will take are not clear, but they will most likely involve doing everything they can to carry on the struggle against the opposing coalition of Qatar, Iran and Turkey which also has Russia's backing.

US President Donald Trump is going to have to decide what kind of Middle East he wants: a region controlled by an Iranian-Qatari-Turkish coalition or by a Saudi-Egyptian-Emirates one. The two coalitions are fast approaching a head-on collision.