Saudi Arabia and at least three other Arab nations are cutting all ties with Qatar, citing concerns over terrorism and regional stability and igniting debate over the rift’s impacts among key U.S. allies in the Middle East.
Qatar’s government “expressed deep regret over the decision,” but it also said it was the victim of “an instigation campaign” that is meant to hurt the nation.
“Such measures are unjustified and are based on baseless and unfounded allegations,” the government’s foreign ministry said.
The cuts came in quick succession, with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain all announcing that they were ending diplomatic relations with Doha and giving Qatari diplomats and citizens days or even hours to get out of their territories. The nations are closing ports and airspace — and with Saudi Arabia shutting its border, Qatar will lose its sole land border crossing.
The Qatari government says its citizens won’t be affected — but news of the closing sent citizens rushing to grocery stores to stock up on supplies.
“I’ve never seen anything like it – people have trolleys full of food and water,” a resident told Doha News while at a Carrefour grocery store in a mall.
As the UAE site The National reports, “Qatar imports 90 percent of its food, mostly through the land border with Saudi Arabia.”
Saudi Arabia’s government says it’s cutting ties to protect itself “from the dangers of terrorism and extremism,” the Saudi Press Agency reports.
The Sunni-ruled Arab nations are unhappy with Qatar’s ties to Shiite-ruled Iran. They also say its authorities have supported both ISIS and al Qaeda, and Egypt has led the way in faulting Qatar for giving a safe haven to leading figures of the Muslim Brotherhood.
After the cuts were announced, Qatar blamed Egypt and said the goal of isolating the country is “the imposition of guardianship over the State.”
As for the U.S. response, both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis say they don’t think the decision will affect the fight against terrorism.
“I do not expect that this will have any significant impact — if any impact at all — on the unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally,” Tillerson said in Sydney, where he’s attending security talks along with Mattis.
Mattis predicted the diplomatic rift will be healed, but he wasn’t sure when.
“I believe Iran’s actions speak louder than anyone’s words,” Mattis said, “and they are going to incite the international community in that region to try to block them.”
NPR’s David Welna, who is traveling with Tillerson and Mattis, notes that the rift among U.S. allies “comes just 10 days after President Trump addressed an anti-terrorism summit of Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, and some see Trump’s siding there with Sunni monarchs and his rhetoric against Iran as having given a kind of green light to blackballing this Gulf nation.”
As David notes, “the biggest U.S. air base in the Middle East is in Qatar, while the Navy’s fifth fleet is based in Bahrain.”