JOHANNESBURG – Qatar is finding itself increasingly isolated after four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties with Doha early Monday over Qatar’s alleged ties with Islamist groups.
The diplomatic move follows leaked emails from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, and a pro-Israel neo-conservative think tank collaborating on ways to downgrade Qatar’s regional and global importance including through media coverage with cooperative journalists.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE all announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar, a gas-rich nation that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, ABC news reported.
Saudi Arabia also said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen.
In addition to cutting diplomatic ties, the four countries also stated that they intended to cut air and sea traffic to the peninsular country.
This move could significantly affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers.
However, as of Monday morning there was no official response by Qatari government officials or Qatar Airways.
Furthermore, the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is where the US military’s Central Command, and some 10,000 American troops, are based so the move could affect American military operations.
Bahrain has accused Doha of “media incitement” and of supporting armed groups, which they allege are linked to and funded by Iran, in carrying out sabotage and “spreading chaos” in Bahrain. The other countries issued similar statements.
The breakdown in relations between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours follows earlier allegations by Qatar that hackers had taken over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments from its ruling emir about Iran and Israel.
In response, the countries blocked Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al Jazeera.
Qatar has long been criticised for supporting groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) which is outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it challenges the countries’ hereditary rule.
The fall-out goes back to when Qatar backed former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the MB, and Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president, who was thrown out in a military coup in 2013 and replaced with President Abdel-Fatteh El Sisi.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar over the rift.
However, eight months later the ambassadors were returned after Qatar expelled some Brotherhood members and silenced others.
The fallout, however, never led to a land and sea blockade as is threatened now.
Qatar has strongly denied it funds extremist groups. Nevertheless it is one of the key financial patrons of Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip.
Doha is also accused of funding and encouraging Sunni extremists, including the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in Syria.
Monday’s dramatic developments follow in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia where he actively supported, economically and politically, the Saudis in their opposition to Iran.
Meanwhile, in the related development of Al Otaiba’s emails being leaked by a group called “Global Leaks”, a strong relationship between Al Otabia and pro-Israel neo-conservative think-tank, the Foundation for Defence of Democracies (FDD), has been established.
The hacked emails, some of which date back to 2014, reveal a high level of backchannel cooperation between the FDD, which is funded by pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close associate of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the UAE, Al Jazeera reported.
The leaked emails also appear to show clear collaboration between the FDD and the UAE on a campaign to downgrade the image and importance of Qatar as a regional and global power, including collusion with journalists who have published articles accusing Qatar and Kuwait of supporting “terrorism”.
– African News Agency (ANA)