Saudi Regime Not to Risk War with Qatar: Ex-US Diplomat
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A former US diplomat and Senate foreign policy adviser described the Saudi regime’s policies as “the antithesis of stability” but at the same time dismissed the possibility that Riyadh would risk waging war against another neighbor after Yemen.
“Now that Turkish troops are in Qatar, I don’t think Riyadh would risk war with that country,” Washington-based political analyst James Jatras said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.
“If the Saudis were going to move militarily with a Yemen-style attack, I think they would have by now,” he said.
James George Jatras is Deputy Director of the American Institute in Ukraine, a privately funded American NGO. Based in Washington, DC, he is a former US diplomat and adviser to the US Senate Republican leadership.
The full text of the interview with Jatras is as follows:
Tasnim: As you know, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain have cut diplomatic ties and also all land, sea, and air contacts with Qatar, accusing the Persian Gulf country of supporting terrorism and interfering in their internal affairs. The four Arab states said in a recent joint statement that Doha's refusal to accept their demands to end the diplomatic standoff was proof of its links to terrorist groups. In its first reaction to the statement from the four, Qatar dismissed as "baseless" the renewed accusations that it was interfering in the affairs of other states and financing terrorism. What is your assessment of these developments? What are the reasons behind such a blazing row?
Jatras: It has nothing to do with terrorism, of course. As is well known, Saudi Arabia is an even bigger supporter of terrorism than Qatar is, including al-Qaeda and Daesh. The US government is well aware of this. Qatar’s “sin” in Saudi eyes is that Doha supports the Muslim Brotherhood (which the Saudis also used to support but stopped several years ago), both materially and via Al-Jazeera information and commentary. Worse, the Qataris also talk with the Iranians, which is unforgivable. The Saudis also insist on absolute domination of the (P)GCC and Doha’s “insubordination” might be infectious.
Tasnim: In the joint statement, the four Arab states vowed to “take all necessary political, economic and legal measures” against Qatar in a “timely manner”. What actions or reactions do you predict from the four and the Qatari side? Do you think that Qatar can form coalitions with countries like Turkey to confront the Saudi-led coalition?
Jatras: I don’t know. If I had to guess, I would suppose all the “cousins” in the region will talk to each other and find a way to defuse the crisis that saves face for all sides. But that’s far from a certainty. The US will also try to broker such a deal, but the lack of a single coherent voice from Washington is counterproductive. If the Saudis were going to move militarily with a Yemen-style attack, I think they would have by now. But given the irrational and egotistical role of “Crown Prince” Muhammad bin Salman, anything is possible. There’s also the possibility that a Saudi failure in its effort to isolate Qatar could backfire on Saudi Arabia and on Muhammad bin Salman personally.
Tasnim: Do the Saudi policies contribute to regional stability at all? In your opinion, is it possible that the siege and boycott of Qatar would end up in a military confrontation? Do you see the future of the emirate similar to Yemen?
Jatras: Saudi policies are the antithesis of stability. If the Saudis did attack – which at this point I think they will not – it risks destabilizing the whole region. Now that Turkish troops are in Qatar, I don’t think Riyadh would risk war with that country. Iran has also voiced support for Qatar but I don’t think an Iranian role would be military. If, hypothetically, the Saudis did risk a military venture, it would be unlikely to be a protracted affair like Yemen. It would be over relatively quickly, one way or the other.
Tasnim: Britain’s foreign minister, Boris Johnson, has recently paid a trip to Saudi Arabia and met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, reportedly in a bid to ease tension in what has become the Persian Gulf's deepest rift in years. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also traveled to Kuwait earlier this week on a similar mission. What geopolitical objectives are London and Washington pursuing in the Arab states?
Jatras: They are trying basically to restore the status quo ante by getting the Saudis to pull in their horns and the Qataris to make an overt demonstration of meeting Saudi demands, even if not totally. The irony is that US policy is in part responsible for this mess by the over-the-top signal of support for Muhammad bin Salman and Riyadh given by President Donald Trump in his visit. Add to that the demonization of Iran as the “world’s number one sponsor of terrorism” that provided the leitmotif for the entire trip. Muhammad bin Salman took that as a political blank check to deal with his neighbors however he likes. It was a terrible blunder.