Behind the Saudi Troublemaking

Saudi Arabia’s monarchy is bombing Yemen, locking up domestic rivals and stirring up trouble in Lebanon, while a slow-burning confrontation continues against Qatar which could split the Gulf Cooperation Council, says Paul Cochrane.

By Paul Cochrane

Five months after the diplomatic spat between the so-called Anti-Terror Quartet and Qatar kicked off, the ante is being upped. Bahrain — one of the quartet alongside Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt — has called for Qatar to be frozen out of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). As the council starts to unravel, what will this mean for Qatar and the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region?

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive to the Murabba Palace, escorted by Saudi King Salman on May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to attend a banquet in their honor. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The Bahraini proposal, which would have been coordinated with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, to lock Qatar out of the GCC is a logical move in the nearly six-month-long siege, with the next potential step the removal of Qatar from the Council altogether.

This unprecedented inter-GCC crisis has led to the biggest divisions within the Council – which consists of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman – since it was formed in 1981.

Qatar leaving the Gulf monarchical club would seriously loosen the threads that bind the GCC together, as the original idea of the Council was proposed by Saudi Arabia as a security pact to make sure any challenges to their respective thrones were quashed. Ironically it was the threat of Islamic extremism that prompted the creation of the GCC, and it is the Anti-Terror Quarter (ATQ) accusing Qatar of funding terrorist groups that is driving the GCC apart.

The spur to form the GCC was the siege of Mecca by radical Saudi Islamists in November 1979. It shook the kingdom to its core for two weeks and nearly lost the Saudis the much coveted, and much abused, title of the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.” To deal with the domestic threat, Riyadh encouraged Islamists to go and fight with the Afghan mujahedeen following the Soviet invasion in December 1979. We all know how that ended: Al Qaeda and its offshoots, 9/11, and blowback for the Middle East and much of the world.

Internal power jockeying among royal family members aside (for instance the Qatari Emir’s father, Hamad, deposed his father, as did Oman’s Sultan Qaboos), the only time the GCC has acted in each other’s defense was not the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, but the Bahraini uprising in 2011.

Bahrain’s rulers, the Khalifas, might have been dethroned by the mass unrest – the royal family is Sunni, which accounts for around 20 percent of the population, the remainder Shia – without GCC military intervention.

It was a brutal and blatant example of how far the GCC will go to ensure its self-preservation. At the same time it brought Bahrain even more into the Saudi camp amid the inter-GCC rivalry to be the leader of the Council.

Traditionally it has been Abu Dhabi and Riyadh jockeying for top position, evidenced in neither capital willing to capitulate to the other over the proposed location of a GCC Central Bank when a Gulf Common Market (GCM) was being mooted in 2008.

But the Arab Spring brought the two closer together in the face of a common enemy: populist uprisings. The relationship has been further cemented by the close ties of the young bucks Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammad bin Zayed (MbZ).

Qatar however did not follow the GCC line, reflecting its assertive foreign policy over the previous decade to steer its own course. This culminated in the UAE, Saudi and Bahrain recalling their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014 (they did not return until November 2014).

Simmering Tensions

Tensions were ironed out yet not fully resolved, which pointed out some crucial problems within the GCC itself: no framework governing relationships between members, no mechanisms to resolve member disputes, and no GCC court or framework to follow up and back GCC resolutions.

President Trump takes part in ceremony for signing agreement on weapons sales in Saudi Arabia, May 20, 2017. (Screen shot from

In addition to the lack of such frameworks, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi lacked any leverage over Qatar. With Qatar having a small populace of 350,000 and one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, Riyadh cannot use checkbook diplomacy as it did with the UAE’s Sharjah in the 1970s, when the penniless emirate was bailed out by Riyadh in return for greater say in Sharjah’s internal policies, which extended to banning alcohol.

Neither is an uprising in Qatar likely due to its citizens’ wealth, but also the lack of different sects with any grievances that could be externally exploited – the majority are Sunni, of the Wahhabi school, the same as Saudi Arabia – although Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have tried to capitalize this year on tribal divisions to overthrow the Emir. Saudi and the Emirates instead had to resort to info-wars to try and bring Qatar to heel.

The Gulf crisis was sparked in May (2017) by the UAE government hacking Qatari government news and social media sites to plant false statements by the Qatari Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The most damning false statement was that the Emir respected the Iranian government – the arch nemesis of the Sunni Gulf monarchies, especially Riyadh. After all, a second core reason for the GCC’s creation was the Iranian revolution, and the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980.

News of the UAE’s hack only came out in July, weeks after the ATQ had cut diplomatic, transport and trade ties with Qatar. The ATQ’s top accusation? Qatar was financing terrorism, sailing too close to the wind with Iran, and pursuing too independent a foreign policy for the ATQ’s liking.

The ATQ, which includes GCC-outsider Egypt, has used all the means at its disposal bar military action to try to isolate Qatar. Kuwait has been acting as a moderator between the two sides, while the Sultanate of Oman is trying to sit on the fence. The Sultanate however is on good terms with Tehran, and has allowed Qatari planes and ships through its territories to circumnavigate the UAE’s blockade of its territorial waters and airspace. Muscat is effectively distancing itself from the Saudi-UAE dominated GCC.

The split has pushed Qatar further into the arms of the Turks, with whom they have a military pact, and the Iranians; both countries are now major providers of food and other goods to Qatar. Turkey is a crucial ally as it is pro-Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Arab moderate Islamic party; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party has championed the Brotherhood while Qatar has allowed both the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliate, Palestine’s Hamas, to operate out of Doha, much to the ATQ’s chagrin.

The Gulf monarchies have long opposed populist Islamic parties – if the monarchies could not have some sway over them – fearing any threat to autocratic rule by organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood that have broad appeal with moderate and middle-class Muslims.

Hence Saudi Arabia and the UAE opposed the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood when it came to power in the wake of the 2011 uprising in Egypt, and supported the 2013 coup by the Egyptian military, which has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, locked up some 60,000 political prisoners, and imprisoned the former president, Mohamed Morsi.

The ATQ has followed Cairo’s lead by designating the Brotherhood a terrorist organization. It has not stopped there. The UAE has listed 82 organizations it deems terrorists, while the ATQ has published a list of 30 organizations it wants Qatar to expel and stop funding.

A Divergent Approach

With Qatar being a host for Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and, for a spell, the Taliban, they have joined as an outlying member the “Axis of Resistance,” a term spawned following George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech in 2002, to denote the anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. alliance between Iran, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

President Donald Trump touches lighted globe with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi King Salman at the opening of Saudi Arabia’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology on May 21, 2017. (Photo from Saudi TV)

The analogy is not quite right though in that Qatar opposed the Syrian regime, gets on with Washington, and is not ideologically nor theologically on the side of Shia Iran or Hezbollah. Instead we have a new, loosely linked axis comprised of Qatar, Iran and Turkey that opposes the Saudi-UAE-led GCC. It is no longer an ascendant “Shia Crescent” pitted against the Sunni Arab states as Jordan’s King Abdullah warned of back in 2004, but a more diverse bloc.

What is clear is that a major cleavage has occurred in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, and that there is no turning back by the ATQ or Qatar to resolve the GCC crisis; there has been too much water under the proverbial bridge between the two camps, and the info-war has been both harsh and personal.

The ATQ’s blockade strategy has not worked, as following the 2014 diplomatic spat Qatar prepared contingency plans to weather a potential siege, which the ATQ was seemingly unaware of. The crisis has also caused the Qataris to rally around the flag.

The ATQ is now trying to strip Qatar of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and has compiled dossiers about Doha’s terrorist financing, although it has not released its “black book” over fears Doha will expose the ATQ’s, especially Saudi Arabia’s, involvement with questionable groups (a case of the kettle calling the pot black) despite Mohammad bin Salman’s public statements to “return Saudi Arabia to moderate Islam.”

At present, the ATQ is running out of other options other than a complete divorce if the crisis continues. The step after a Qatar GCC exit, a ‘Qatexit’? Saudi intervention according to analysts, especially if Mohammad bin Salman’s reform plans and Vision 2030 to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons does not pan out, and the kingdom becomes increasingly cash-strapped due to low oil prices.

Theodore Karasik, a senior adviser at Washington D.C.-based consultancy Gulf State Analytics, posits that Qatar could be brought under Saudi Arabia’s umbrella by force to seize the country’s huge gas reserves, the third largest in the world.

Who knows, black swan events do occur, and the global powers would vocally oppose such a move but likely not exercise military intervention a la 1991 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The U.S. troops based in Qatar would just stay in their base; the Trump administration has signaled it has sided with Riyadh, even though the State Department has been more nuanced towards Doha. As for the Turks and the Iranians, they would not want to be brought into a conflagration with Riyadh and the ATQ. That really would tear the MENA apart.

Ultimately, there’s not much to stop a Saudi gas grab. There’s not much desire internationally for yet another Middle Eastern military “adventure” following the debacles in Iraq and Libya, while nobody’s lifted a finger against Saudi Arabia for its war against Yemen. As long as Qatari gas exports remain uninterrupted, the global powers might readily accept a change of management.

That said, such a Saudi move may be far-fetched, but a new GCC without Qatar seems increasingly likely.

Paul Cochrane is an independent journalist based in Beirut, where he has lived since 2002. He covers the Middle East and Central Asia for specialized publications, business magazines and newspapers. His work has been featured in over 80 publications, including Reuters, Money Laundering Bulletin, Middle East Eye, Petroleum Review and Jane’s. Educated in Britain and the US, he earned a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut.

26 comments for “Behind the Saudi Troublemaking

  1. GeorgyOrwell
    November 15, 2017 at 10:27

    To deal with the domestic threat, Riyadh encouraged Islamists to go and fight with the Afghan mujahedeen following the Soviet invasion in December 1979. We all know how that ended: Al Qaeda and its offshoots, 9/11, and blowback for the Middle East and much of the world.

    I just love flippant assertions like this as if this is all undisputed fact, that everbody universally agrees with, of what’s actually really going on here. Especially 9/11…lets just completely ignore all the problems with the ‘official story’, all the internal contradictions, omissions, and illogical conclusions. Lets just explain it all away by the ‘Blowback” theory. Let’s pretend that David Ray Griffin did not write ten books poking holes in every part of the official story, or that there are not nearly 3,000 architects and engineers challenging the NIST report.

    Pleeeeze. I lose patience.

  2. tom hussey
    November 15, 2017 at 02:21

    I don’t understand Cochrane’s statement that there’s not much to prevent Saudi Arabia seizing Qatar’s gas reserves. Those reserves are shared with Iran, and Iran and Qatar should be strong enough to defeat such a move by Saudi Arabia.

  3. Nun of That
    November 14, 2017 at 01:55

    Once upon a time, sheiks worked hard to mine bitcoin and thus control the world. It could happen again.

  4. MaDarby
    November 13, 2017 at 05:46

    I would say that this is good news. The Empire is using energy and its money fighting with itself. It’s hideous starvation of 20 million has not gone unnoticed around the world. The “united front” in the Middle East is showing what it is, a corrupt system of bribery. The Empire which must control Central Asia to remain an Empire is loosing its grip.

    The Empire is disintegrating the web of agreements, bribes and alliances which are the glue of the Empire are no longer agreed, the bribes are not enough the money is running out.

    All these events are a positive for the people of the world.

    • November 13, 2017 at 13:23

      Probably true, but the death throes may be the worst of times.

  5. Mild-ly - Facetious
    November 13, 2017 at 04:25

    Donald Trump signs $110 billion arms deal with nation he accused of masterminding 9/11

    Arms deal with a country accused of repeatedly violating international law is set to be worth $380 billion within a decade

    Rachael Revesz
    Sunday 21 May 2017

    Donald Trump has signed the largest arms deal in history with Saudi Arabia despite warnings he could be accused of being complicit in war crimes and after blaming Saudi Arabia himself for producing the terrorists behind 9/11.

    The President confirmed he had signed a weapons deal with the Saudis worth $109.7 billion, predicted to grow to a $380 billion Saudi investment within 10 years, during his first trip abroad since his Inauguration.

    Mr Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the deal was positive news for American employment and the economy.

    Yet a February Gallup poll found that Saudi Arabia is one of the least liked countries by Americans, only slightly less than Russia.

    The deal would also appear hypocritical after the President publicly accused the Saudis of masterminding the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001.

    Amnesty International accused the President of a “glaring omission” of human rights on the leaders’ agenda, and called for the US to stop selling arms to the Saudis to prevent the nation’s violation of international law via air strikes in Yemen and killing civilians

    • Mild-ly - Facetious
      November 13, 2017 at 04:32

      Top Secret Plant in Palmdale Ramps up to Build B-21 Bomber

      NOVEMBER 10, 2017

      A once-empty parking lot at Northrop Grumman Corp.’s top secret aircraft plant in Palmdale is now jammed with cars that pour in during the predawn hours.

      More than a thousand new employees are working for the time being in rows of temporary trailers, a dozen tan-colored tents and a vast assembly hangar at the desert site near the edge of urban Los Angeles County.

      It is here that Northrop is building the Air Force’s new B-21 bomber, a stealthy bat-winged jet that is being designed to slip behind any adversary’s air defense system and deliver devastating airstrikes for decades to come. The Pentagon is aiming to buy 100 of the bombers by the mid-2030s for at least $80 billion, though the exact amount is classified.

      Northrop won the bomber contract in 2015, but the pace of activity is ramping up sharply under an Air Force budget that has reached $2 billion for this fiscal year.

      • Fred
        November 15, 2017 at 06:51

        Another MIC boondoggle. It will be operational about 6 years after the Russians have figured out how to track it, but Northrop Grumman needs their welfare check.

    • November 13, 2017 at 13:21

      H.&O. initiated the largest arms deal in history, Trump signed it.

  6. Liam
    November 12, 2017 at 12:05

    Thank you very much Robert Parry and Consortium News for all you do to bring truth and light to this world, and for helping our veterans through exposing the dark truths about our nations illegal and immoral wars for profit and hegemony. New information is here related to John McCain’s actions aiding terrorist groups in Syria.

    “All McCain’s Men” in the FSA Terrorist Factions in Syria – A Lesson in How Not To Conduct Covert Foreign Operations And Provide Support For Terrorists

  7. November 12, 2017 at 11:04

    February 4, 2017
    Will There Be War With Iran?

    “According to four-star General Wesley Clark, shortly after the attacks of 9/11, the Pentagon adopted a plan to topple the governments of seven countries; Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.” Darius Shahtahmasebi, January 27, 2017.

    Is it now Iran’s turn to be subjected to the planned and hellish wars that have already engulfed Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan and other countries? Will, the gates of hell be further opened to include an attack on Iran? …
    [read more at link below]

  8. November 12, 2017 at 10:50

    Article of interest at link below:
    On The Brink Of War

    The latest developments in Saudi Arabia are just the prelude to an imminent war that will reshape the region and affect the entire world
    By Abdel Bari Atwan

  9. fudmier
    November 12, 2017 at 06:08

    Discusses Trump, Netanyahu, MBS & War house Director-General Kushner “wars-for-profits in Middle East”
    MEwaar Is about the LNG business and secondarily traditional oil and gas wish-list fulfillment, as well as access for the vulture service providers (garbage collection, water supplies, communications, banking, electrical grid services, etc.) to new markets. Each provider .. expecting war to gain for them access to markets and control over resources in countries that are not now theirs. Disguised as wars between nations or within nations over or about race, religion or politics, the wars are actually just military or economic strikes directed against those who now own the markets and resources. Such strikes against competition (euphemistically called war) are likely to continue, until those who now own the resources or control the markets passively occupy grave space, or run from life-threatening fear. The best rackets seem to involve selling nation state protection from military knee breakers because the claim of war forces the innocent citizens of the nation that host the knee-breaking military, to pay all of the war maker bills.

    • anon
      November 12, 2017 at 18:31

      The causes of Mideast wars are Israel, the problems that Israel causes, and the divisions that Israel deliberately aggravates.

      The LNG motive is weak. NG pipelines are not mutually exclusive, Russia can supply enough for the EU, Qatar can use Iran’s pipeline.

    • Abe
      November 13, 2017 at 18:29

      The Rolling Stone piece never once refers to Netanyahu or Israel, despite the considerable attention paid to staunch Israel supporter Jared Kushner, who “powwowed” in Riyadh with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

      Israel has been scrubbed from media reports, and responsibility for Middle East mayhem has been laid on the Saudis.

      The Israeli-Saudi-US Axis of Evil takes pains to conceal Israel’s pre-eminent interests and influence.

      Mainstream media are under orders portray Middle East conflict as a cage match between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

  10. Abe
    November 11, 2017 at 23:30

    Syria, Iran, and Lebanon are fighting the true “War on Terror” against terrorist proxies sponsored by the Israeli-Saudi-US Axis:

    “Also never discussed is the fact that terrorists – particularly those either members of the self-titled ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and Al Qaeda, or those inspired by such groups – are indoctrinated, radicalized, armed, funded, and supported by Washington, London, Brussels, and a collection of the West’s closest allies in the Middle East – namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, and Israel.

    “It was in a leaked 2012 US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) memo that revealed the US and its allies’ intent to create what it called a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria. The memo would explicitly state that:

    “‘If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).’

    “On clarifying who these supporting powers were, the DIA memo would state:

    “‘The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition; while Russia, China, and Iran support the regime.’

    “The ‘Salafist’ (Islamic) ‘principality’ (State) would indeed be created precisely in eastern Syria as US policymakers and their allies had set out to do. It would be branded as the ‘Islamic State’ and be used first to wage a more muscular proxy war against Damascus, and when that failed, to invite US military forces to intervene in the conflict directly.

    “In 2014, in an e-mail between US Counselor to the President John Podesta and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it would be admitted that two of America’s closest regional allies – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – were providing financial and logistical support to ISIS.

    “The e-mail, leaked to the public through Wikileaks, stated:

    “‘…we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to [ISIS] and other radical Sunni groups in the region.’

    “Despite admissions from the United States military and high-level politicians that ISIS was literally a creation of its own intentional foreign policy and perpetuated through state-sponsorship by America’s closest regional allies, both the administrations of President Barack Obama and President Trump would continue signing weapon deals, maintaining diplomatic ties, and strengthening military and economic cooperation with these state-sponsors of terror.

    “Simultaneously, the US and Europe also continue encouraging and protecting Saudi Arabia’s global network of faux-madrases – centers of indoctrination often under the watch and even co-management of Western intelligence agencies ensuring a constant, fresh supply of potential patsies for local terrorist attacks and recruits for the West’s proxy armies fighting abroad.

    “In other words, the problem of ‘radical Islam’ is manufactured and perpetuated by the West. Without the money, weapons, and support provided by the US and Europe to nations like Saudi Arabia, their toxic political tools would quickly dull and be swept into the dustbin of human history. As seen in Syria itself, where hundreds of trucks per day from NATO territory are no longer able to supply ISIS positions within the country, ISIS is unable to sustain itself. It lacks genuine popular support in a region where the vast majority of Muslims, Christians, and the secular remain united against it and has no means of sustaining itself without immense and constant state sponsorship.”

    The Truth About Radical Islam
    By Tony Cartalucci

    • November 13, 2017 at 12:33

      Those hundreds of trucks were also transporting Da’esh seized Syrian oil into Turkey which was then shipped via Erogdon’s son’s owned oil tanker to isreali refinery.

  11. fudmier
    November 11, 2017 at 23:15

    I would suggest that the article by Paul Cochrane does a good job of making the show in Saudi Arabia look like politics as usual, but it fails to acknowledge that taking of Qatar and the invasion of Lebanon seem imminent.. ..according to the link ( all foreign forces have been advised to leave Lebanon? Intentional starvation of millions of Shia is in progress in Yemen and some say at least 16000 troops are now in Afghanistan. seemingly, the object of these events and positioning is to force Iran into the open.. . and to draw Russia into the conflict if Russia and Iran won’t join the fight now, then the corporate oil will turn their political warlords loose, to go after them one at a time.

    The problem seems to be no one will pay the price the LNG families must get to break even. Unless the competition is either eliminated or forced to raise the global price of oil and gas, the heavily invested LNG families will lose their asses.. These wars, purges, and kidnappings are about global price of oil and gas, corporate control and private ownership of the national oil reserves of whatever country has such a reserve.
    My opinion..

    • November 13, 2017 at 12:19

      And USA dollar as Oil Petrocurrency. And controlling fossil supplies worldwide in order to control China and Russia.

  12. David G
    November 11, 2017 at 21:39

    The scenario described here of Saudi Arabia literally conquering Qatar and seizing its petro wealth, and with scarcely an international ripple to boot, does, I confess, seem “far-fetched”, as provisionally conceded by Paul Cochrane in the final paragraph above.

    Still, if people more knowledgeable than I are taking the possibility seriously, I appreciate knowing about it.

    Fwiw, if Riyadh is really considering it, I strongly suggest acting before Jan. 20, 2021. Trump might conceivably let it slide, but I think any “normal” administration (not that I’m a fan of the permanent, imperial, bipartisan war party) would blanch.

  13. November 11, 2017 at 21:11

    Saudi Arabia today is the World nation whose public policies and actions are closest to the covertly disguised whims of the CIA/MI6,DOD/NSC, etc. That trend is accelerating & converging from both directions.

    • Druid
      November 12, 2017 at 17:24

      Bs. Israel is still first, then the Saudis

    • anon
      November 12, 2017 at 18:25

      You have zero evidence of that and you know it. This is racist zionist propaganda hoping to conceal the obvious zionist control of US mass media, elections, and warmongering.

      • D
        November 15, 2017 at 09:22

        Saudi-Israel twins.

  14. mike k
    November 11, 2017 at 21:03

    The governments around the world now are nothing but Mafias run by amoral thugs in suits. The moral decline of humankind will result in it’s extinction – and good riddance to the scum we have become!

    • D
      November 15, 2017 at 09:21

      What is a political regime, when devoid of justice, but organized crime?” – Saint Augustine

Comments are closed.