The Al-Ula Discord

by Irina Tsukerman

Following the conclusion of the Al Ula agreements which lifted the land, sea, and airspace boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain on Qatar and normalized diplomatic, trade, and business relations between the countries in an effort to reunify the GCC in the face of the Iran threats, I had some thoughts some of which were quoted in an earlier JNS article. Below are my full comments and additional thoughts after over two weeks since the GCC summit.


Blockade, the wording adopted by Qatar and the mainstream media to describe the nature of the rift,  is not the correct term for this because it implies that Qatar’s own territory was blocked off by the involved countries but in reality they merely prevented Qatar from utilizing their air space, waterways, and land borders.
There has been no evidence that Qatar has made any compromises or acquiesced to any of the thirteen demands set out in the beginning of the boycott imposed in 2017.
On the contrary, last week’s Houthi attack on Aden airport, as the new Yemen unity government was coming in, was backed with Qatari financial support for sophisticated weapons used by Houthis previously to attack Yemeni and Saudi targets, including civilians.
As a matter of fact, I had interviewed the leading contact on the US team which had testified before the UN and will be testifying for additional UN panels, ICC, and US DOJ investigations to the effect of continuing Qatari funding for Houthi Chinese and Iranian made drones, as well as the ongoing financial support for Hezbullah. I had an opportunity to speak for an entire weekend with this US contractor in Germany. He is currently working with German intelligence, and has already provided evidence of shell corporations involved in this issue, names of attorneys, testimonials by confidential informants, bank accounts and more. He had been asked, in future panels, to provide information concerning the names of Qatari intelligence officers involved in these transactions.
This funding follows a series of explosive articles produced and verified by various leading German press this summer concerning the evidence of Qatar’s ongoing financial support for Hezbullah.
When I met the contractor, I had an opportunity to personally examine some of the evidence. The information included the fact of various corrupt Islamist officials in Middle East, including KSA, laundering billions out of the country, including through Uganda gold refineries. Qatar is involved with Islamist networks all over the Middle East, and also funds Muslim Brotherhood activities, including hte Al Islah party in Yemen, which is cooperating with the Houthis on various intelligence matters. According to the evidence produced by the contractor, these decisions are done by the inner circles of the Al Thani family, and not merely by some rogue operatives.
This summer, Saudis ousted two senior Arab Coalition officials tied into the Islamist corruption issues in Yemen.
It is very clear that the coordination between Qatar, Iran-backed Houthis and Hezbullah, and Islamists networks is ongoing and active, and presents a direct security threat to US military bases in Yemen, to ISrael, threatened by Hezbullah and Houthi missiles, and of course, to KSA, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain, which has also become lately a target of the Houthi attacks.
KSA’s lifting of the boycott will facilitate Qatar’ smuggling of arms and fighters into East Saudi Arabia, where Iran is actively involved in radicalizing the local Shi’a population and through there to Islamist and terrorist cells all over the country.
Furthermore, while the Trump administration claimed that allowing Qatari airlines to pass over KSA will save the money Qatar had been paying Iran to that effect from going into Iranian conflicts, without an observable commitment to the eschewing of funding for terrorist organizations, proxies, and pro-Iran ideologues working together with other radical function, this gesture amounts to nothing more than political virtue signaling that does nothing to resolve the long rooted issues of Qatar’s decades long ideological and practical alliance with Iran and Islamists, that has led to multiple unresolved ruptures with other GCC states in the past.
In fact, Qatar and Iran will take this step exactly as what it is – a sign of capitulation – and will benefit greatly from it.
The correct response would be to have Qatar sign off on a series of firm commitments, observe its willingness to stick to them with the help of intelligence agencies for at least 2 years, and then lift the boycott.
KSA is losing out on leverage, whereas Qatar sees these events as a sign of impunity and its growing influence in the region and in the West.
It is a major mistake that Saudi Arabia will come to regret and that will create issues with other countries as a result of what may be seen as weakening resolved on confrontation of Brotherhood without getting any substantive assistance against Iran from Qatar in return. Further evidence that no such help is forthcoming is the recent US military decision to stop intelligence cooperation with Doha in Qatar because of the regime’s close cooperation with Iran. That does not sound like the US regards Qatar as in any way helpful on that issue, quite the contrary.
This decision is a major mistake.
What is even worse is that the reconciliation was not limited to small measures but included complete diplomatic, economic, and business rapprochement. Whereas some believe that the restoration of diplomatic relations may give the governments concerned with Qatar’s close relations with Iran, sponsorship of Muslim Brotherhood, meddling in other countries’ affairs, funding of terrorism, or the political use of Al Jazeera the tools they need to keep Qatar in check, there is no evidence Qatar is either worried about these countries actually exercising that leverage, or prioritizing these rekindled relationships over its activities of choice. The truth is, geopolitically Qatar sees a potential for itself to play an outsized role in global affairs; having brought the other states to heel over the signing of a meaningless document, Doha now is all too happy to milk two cows.
On the one hand, it is already taking advantage of the unfreezing of economic projects in Egypt, and the promise of new companies and investments in Saudi Arabia. Involvement of Qatar’s Sovereign Fund in KSA would allow Doha to exercise an outsized influence on Saudi Arabia’s economy and perhaps attach strings related to political processes. Involvement in private industries would channel new avenues for money laundering and empower regressive and Islamist factions. Perhaps it is these factions who have leveraged their influence to push for this unconditional surrender to Doha. The opening of Qatar’s embassy also empowers Qatar’s intelligence apparatus to engage in the usual sort of subterfuge. Saudi “Deep State”, not the reformists, will be the beneficiary of any Saudi embassy in Doha.
As the factions benefiting from these dubious financial relationships grow in power, they may exercise more power over the political processes, meddle in the internal decisionmaking, and get in the way of the ongoing reforms designed to empower younger more progressive Saudis and to limit the sinecures the Old Guard once enjoyed.
Qatar’s economic resurgence in the ATQ is a one way street. It plays into the hand of Muslim Brotherhood ideologues, and gives a backdoor to Iran.
It allows  Iranian proxies to literally get away with murder.
Normalization with Qatar may also mean Qatar’s eventual open return to Yemen where it can cause problems even more directly than it has done since being asked to leave after a major security breach led to the destruction of a clandestine Arab Coalition base.
Finally, although the Trump administration may very well be blamed for this outcome as it sought the reunification in light of its anti-Iran positioning, the reality is, once it became obvious that Trump was leaving office, none of this posturing was necessary. Neither Jared Kushner nor his Qatari ties had any real power to push the Saudi government at this point; nor was fear of Biden sufficient enough of a catalyst to warrant this level of sacrifice of national security considerations without any real guarantees in return. Besides, Qatar wins regardless of which way the wind blows and will not defend KSA in the likely event Biden and Harris pile on Riyadh; on the contrary, Doha will take advantage of the ensuing weakening of the Saudi state to pursue its own advantage and get better terms on internal dealings.
So what was the real reason for this sudden push despite internal controversy with other states, including, in particular, Egypt?
It may be that with the 10th anniversary of the Arab Spring upon us, that the restive factions took advantage of the opportunity to try to cement their positions in exchange for agreeing to maintain control over their followers and keeping the situation stable at home.
Additionally, seeing that the Biden administration and the “human rights activists” are not particularly appreciative of the modernizing Vision 2030, they may be trying to turn this political vulnerability to their advantage making promises of cooperation with the US leftist establishment in exchange for major political concessions.
Either way, this development and the potential signal that the retrogrades may be on the rise and seeking to wrestle away power from the reformists does not bode well for anyone in the region, in the West, and least for all, for Saudis themselves.
Now is a time like no other for the younger generation of Saudis – and the supporters of a modernized reform-minded Saudi Arabia – to come out in troves in support of the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s programs designed to privatize initiatives, cut down on bureaucracy that perpetuations the Old Guard thinking and corruption, and push for extreme transparency and a clear system of consequences in dealing with Qatar.
If Doha and its Deep State allies are to prevail, Saudi Arabia not only will itself head in a very unenviable direction of isolation, economic weakness, essentially being left behind, but it will drag the rest of the region down with it, which will help an irreversibly damaging effect on the rest of the world.
At the first sign of Qatar’s abuse, the other three ATQ states should offer unconditional support to the Saudi critics of this move and help them prevail upon affecting a turn around in this concerning policy before KSA veers too far off its current course.