When it erupted in June 2017, the “Qatar crisis” drew immediate speculation that the emirate’s enemies, who accuse it of sponsoring terrorism and destabilising the region, were preparing for some sort of military action.
After all, since the inconclusive resolution to an earlier dispute with Qatar in 2014, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been determined to take a bolder and more assertive stance, bloodily intervening in Yemen and, according to recently leaked emails purportedly sent by the UAE’s ambassador in Washington, at one point even coming “pretty close to doing something in Qatar”.
Whereas Barack Obama was highly unlikely to ever support such action against Doha, later hinting that he would no longer reflexively side with Saudi Arabia in its squabbles, Donald Trump’s administration seemed at first to re-open the door to more drastic measures.
Trump pointedly chose Saudi Arabia for his first official overseas visit, on which he signed several big-ticket arms deals. And just hours after Riyadh severed relations with Doha, he tweeted that, when it comes to terrorism funding, “all reference was pointing to Qatar” and that “perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism”.
But the White House was soon apprised of the full extent of the US’s military facilities in Qatar, including the difficult-to-move forward headquarters of US Central Command (CENTCOM), and the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, hurriedly attempted to strike a more conciliatory tone. For a moment, it seemed any immediate danger to Doha had subsided. Indeed, as recently reported, Trump had apparently given an emphatic “no” to any military action, preferring to leave the quarrelling Gulf states to their own devices.
Nonetheless, even as the days dragged into weeks and then months, it seemed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with their allies in the “Anti-Terror Quartet”, Bahrain and Egypt, were gaining the upper hand.