Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain have all cut ties with Qatar:
Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed diplomatic and some commercial links with Qatar Monday, a dramatic move that exposed divides among U.S. allies in the Middle East over policy toward Iran and the role of political Islam in the region.
Qatar has been a destructive actor in the region by promoting jihadist and Islamist groups in Libya and Syria at least since the time of the Libyan war six years ago, but it is telling that this public rift is happening now. These governments are moving to punish Qatar now largely because the latter is perceived as insufficiently hostile to Iran (the crisis was triggered when Qatar’s emir reportedly said some mildly accommodating things about Iran) and because the Trump administration let it be known in the president’s Riyadh speech that Washington would let them do whatever they wanted:
“It seems that the Saudis and Emiratis feel emboldened by the alignment of their regional interests—toward Iran and Islamism—with the Trump administration,” says Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Needless to say, a very public rupture between different U.S. regional clients makes a mockery of the idea that Trump’s visit succeeded in “unifying” these governments in common cause. Instead, it gave some of them license to pursue their vendettas against another one. As part of the Saudis’ justification for severing ties, Riyadh claimed that Qatar was aiding the Houthis:
Explaining the reasons for the diplomatic break, Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry on Monday said it had found evidence that Qatar was tacitly supporting Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are aligned with Iran. Qatar had been part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen.
That is quite a claim, and given the Saudis’ tendency to lie about anything related to the war on Yemen I am extremely skeptical that there is any truth to it. Since one of the main reasons for punishing Qatar is its relatively less hostile attitude towards Iran, the accusation seems very convenient indeed. If the Saudis hadn’t completely destroyed their credibility over the last two years with distortions and falsehoods about their campaign in Yemen, their claims might be easier to believe now.
In practice, this is what it means when the U.S. backs its clients to the hilt and promises never to criticize their behavior: they think they have a green light from Washington to do as they like without any consequences. The administration has done nothing to suggest otherwise, and so we should expect more of the same bullying and intimidating behavior from the Saudis and their allies. That is likely to produce more conflict and instability, and the U.S. will probably be stuck dealing with the fallout later on.