Daily Briefing 4528 -TURKEY – IRAN – QATAR: AN EMERGING BLOC

TURKEY – IRAN – QATAR: AN EMERGING BLOC

New Middle East Alliance Shakes World Powers: Yossef Bodansky, Yahoo Finance, Mar. 28, 2019 — A new bloc is emerging in the greater Middle East with the declared objectives of dominating the entire Arab world, confronting and containing the US and its allies; and controlling and benefiting from the entire hydro-carbon economy, from production to transportation.

How Saudi Arabia Lost Out To Iran And Turkey Over Failed Qatar Blockade: Mohammed Nuruzzaman: Informed Comment, Aug. 6, 2018 — The 5th of June was the first anniversary of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. Imposed on the accusation that Qatar was sponsoring terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East region, the blockade came as a big shock, a bolt from the blue for the Qataris but they have managed to survive it well.
Qatari Ties to Ira

n, Turkey Undermine Regional Security: Iman Zayat, The Arab Weekly, Dec. 16, 2018 — Qatar made a surprise announcement December 3 that it would pull out of OPEC, a move seen as aimed at provoking Saudi Arabia, the organisation’s top exporter.

Oman Will Bend, But Not Break, From Gulf Pressure: Stratfor, Aug. 31, 2018 –The Sultanate of Oman often gets tagged with the cliche of “sleepy” — in part because it has chosen to sit out nearly every major Middle Eastern war since gaining independence in 1971.

On Topic Links

Oman: Between Iran and a Hard Place: Camille Lons, European Council on Foreign Relations, May 3, 2019 — Oman doesn’t like to take sides. In an increasingly polarized region, the oft-ignored Sultanate stands out for its efforts to seek common ground, finding paths to peace that sometimes elude larger powers. small size and its strategic location on the Strait of Hormuz makes it vulnerable to regional tensions and to the ambitions of its more powerful neighbours.
Turkey-Iran-Qatar Entente to Replace US-Israel-Saudi Arabia?: Mordechai Stones, Arutz Sheva, Mar. 1, 2019 — The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported that pro-Putin, anti-liberal Russian think-tank Katehon published an editorial stating a new axis, represented by Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, has been formed.
Is Oman Mediating Between Iran And Israel?: Hossein Alizadeh, Radio Farda, Nov. 12, 2018 — Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu received a warm welcome during his surprise visit to Oman in late October.

Qatar Is in An Uneasy Position as Iran Sanctions Bite: Nick Butler, Financial Times, Nov. 12, 2018 — The next stage of the 30-year dispute between the US and Iran is beginning with the imposition last week of a new round of sanctions on the Islamic republic.

NEW MIDDLE EAST ALLIANCE SHAKES WORLD POWERS
Yossef Bodansky
Yahoo Finance, March 28, 2019

A new bloc is emerging in the greater Middle East with the declared objectives of dominating the entire Arab world, confronting and containing the US and its allies; and controlling and benefiting from the entire hydro-carbon economy, from production to transportation. The leading members of the new bloc are Turkey, Iran, and Qatar; with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan submitting to the new bloc. Russian experts call the new bloc “the Middle Eastern Entente”.

The key to the success of the bloc is the emerging correlation of influence of the great powers in the
aftermath of the wars in Syria and Iraq. Russia and the People’s Republic of China are ready to compromise with the regional powers in order to secure their vital and global interests, while the US, Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, Israel, are the nemeses of the bloc.

The roots of “the Middle Eastern Entente” are in Doha. Qatar in Summer 2017 initiated a myriad of bilat-eral and trilateral discussions with Iran and Turkey after Saudi Arabia and the GCC allies imposed the siege on Qatar in June of that year. However, it was not until the second half of 2018, with the initial impact of the siege largely ameliorated, that the long-term post-war posture of the greater Middle East became a major priority.

It was then that Doha, Tehran, and Ankara started talking about forming a coherent strategic bloc. According to Iman Zayat, the Managing Editor of The Arab Weekly, in late November 2018, the three coun-tries struck a deal in Tehran to create a “joint working group to facilitate the transit of goods between the three countries”. This was the beginning of a profound realignment of the three regional powers. “Qatar has irrevocably joined with Ankara and Tehran against its former Arab allies. It has conclusively positioned itself in a regional alliance that pursues geopolitical dominance by driving instability,” Zayat noted.

It did not take long for the three powers to realize that for such a bloc to succeed it must focus on security issues and not just economic issues. Hectic negotiations followed. In mid-December 2018, the three foreign ministers — Muhammad bin Ab-dulrahman al-Thani, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and Mevlut Çavusoglu — signed the protocols and agreements for the new bloc on the sidelines of the 18th Doha Forum. In the Forum, Qatar formally called for “a new alliance that would replace the four-decade-old Gulf Cooperation Council”. Since then, specific and concrete negotiations on the consolidation of the bloc have been taking place. The final modalities for joint actions and common priorities, particularly the integration of the Arab states, were formulated in early March 2019.

Iran was the dominant force in this phase. The last decisive push for the Arab integration took place during Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Tehran on February 25, 2019. There, he submitted to the demands of the Iranian mullahs and to tight supervision by Tehran. Significantly, during his stay in Tehran, Assad was constantly escorted by Qassem Soleimani, Mahmoud Alavi, and Ali Akbar Velayati, who attended all his meetings with Iranian leaders. In Tehran, Assad committed to supporting the new bloc and to support the greater Middle East the bloc members were trying to create.

The geo-strategic and geo-economic objectives of the bloc are huge, and, as things stand in late March 2019, largely attainable. The first objective of “the Middle Eastern Entente” was to quickly consolidate strong influence, if not hegemony, over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan before the Fertile Crescent of Minorities could re-emerge as a viable geo-strategic and political entity. The primary rôle of the revived Fertile Crescent of Minorities was to constitute a buffer containing the upsurge of the Sunni Arab milieu and blocking the access of both Iran and Turkey to the heartlands of al-Jazira.

The greatest fear of the bloc members, however, was the possible ascent of the Kurds as a regional power once they internalized the US betrayal and were ready to strike deals with Moscow and Damascus. The overall susceptibility of the four Arab countries to the new regional posture was evident from their blatant disregard of the US sanctions on Iran. Hence, this region would soon become the key to a new grand-strategic and grand-economic posture for the entire greater Middle East… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

HOW SAUDI ARABIA LOST OUT TO IRAN AND TURKEY OVER FAILED QATAR BLOCKADE
Mohammed Nuruzzaman
Informed Comment, Aug. 6, 2018

The 5th of June was the first anniversary of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. Imposed on the accusation that Qatar was sponsoring terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East region, the blockade came as a big shock, a bolt from the blue for the Qataris but they have managed to survive it well. Qatar’s capacity to make quick diplomatic and economic adjustments to weather the impact of the blockade has saved it from a possible collapse. The Gulf state now looks stronger than what it was before the June 2017 diplomatic standoff, even after incurring a huge financial cost of US $43 billion, according to Bloomberg.

In early February this year, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani dubbed the boycott a “futile crisis” manufactured by the neighboring Arab quartet of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt. He claimed that Qatar successfully “preserved its sovereignty” by diffusing the crisis – a claim it is difficult to reject. In the past one year, Qatar neither accepted the 13-point demands of the blockaders, including the shutting down of state broadcaster Al Jazeera, scaling back relations with Iran, and expelling Turkish troops stationed on Qatari soil nor bowed to the pressures of its powerful Arab opponents. Rather, in a tit-for-tat, Qatar has recently banned Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt-made products in its domestic markets. Boycott blowback is in the offing!

Qatari Strategies

The Saudi-led bloc aimed to coerce Qatar into submission under the financial stress of land, air and sea boycott. But Qatar’s two-pronged diplomatic and economic strategy to fight back the boycott has paid off. It quickly pursued deft diplomacy to find friends outside the GCC and was equally quick to make skillful economic policies to largely neutralize the impact of the Arab commercial siege.

Qatar, despite being a tiny Gulf state, is known for its high-profile foreign policy in and outside the Middle East. It has had a diplomatic reputation of “playing all sides”, including both friends and foes, to its benefits. Being a member of the GCC (created in 1981 primarily to stand up to the so-called Iranian threats) Qatar has maintained good relations with Saudi Arabia’s regional nemesis Iran, allowed Iran’s principal enemy the US to establish the Al-Udeid air base, the largest in the Middle East, outside Doha and even permitted Israel to open and operate a trade outpost in Doha in 1996, first closed down in 2000 due to Iranian and Saudi boycott threats of OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) summit Qatar was hosting at the time and finally in 2009 after the Hamas – Israel winter war of 2008–2009. In an attempt to impress the Obama administration and the Europeans, Qatar also militarily participated in NATO’s 2011 air operations in Libya to dislodge the Gaddafi government, raising eyebrows in Riyadh and Tehran.

The policy of “playing all sides” proved useful for Qatar to seek powerful friends to meet new powerful foes. The old diplomatic adage – the enemy of my enemy is my friend soon came into full play. Doha’s overtures to Saudi opponents Iran and Turkey for political and diplomatic bail out did not go unheeded. Turkey was already enjoying strong ties with Qatar, partly influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood factor and partly influenced by the Erdogan government’s geopolitical drive to reach out to wealthy Gulf region. Capitalizing on a previous defense agreement with Qatar, concluded in the wake of the 2014 diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and the UAE (the two countries withdrew their ambassadors demanding Qatar stop interfering in their domestic affairs) the Turks sent military contingents to defend Qatar against foreign aggressions (read possible Saudi and UAE military attacks).

Iran, in a similar way, beefed up actions to aid the political and economic defense of Qatar. It buried the hatchet with Qatar as well as Turkey over Syria, where they back up opposite sides and still maintain simmering differences. For Iran’s decision to side with Qatar, a host of strategic considerations, particularly a crack in the GCC bloc to weaken Saudi standing in the Gulf neighborhood and to foil President Trump’s bid to shore up Sunni Muslim support for military actions against Iran played a critical role. Tehran readily offered all-out help – the shipments of food items, the use of Iranian airspace by the Qatar airways and the transition facilities for Turkish goods and services transferred to Qatar through Iran. Iran’s support was no doubt highly critical to Qatar’s survival at the initial “shock and awe” stage. A friend in need is a friend indeed!

On the economic front, Qatar did not experience any crack or crisis so far due to its enormous oil and gas resources, and successful rerouting of trade links with Iran, Turkey and Oman, in particular. It is the world’s largest exporter of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and has access to a nearly infinite gas reserve in the Persian Gulf, which it shares with Iran. With a 77 million tons of LNG production per annum, Qatar is a vital player in the world energy markets and plans to hike its LNG output to 100 million tons between 2022 and 2024 – a factor that discouraged LNG-dependent countries not to cut off diplomatic relations with Doha, notwithstanding the Saudi-led bloc’s campaign to isolate the Gulf state. Its sovereign wealth fund, a huge financial cushion of $320 billion managed by the Qatar Investment Authority, provided the Qatari government with the required liquidity to keep its financial institutions floating and to contain the economic costs of the blockade… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

QATARI TIES TO IRAN, TURKEY UNDERMINE REGIONAL SECURITY
Iman Zayat
The Arab Weekly, Dec. 16, 2018

Qatar made a surprise announcement December 3 that it would pull out of OPEC, a move seen as aimed at provoking Saudi Arabia, the organisation’s top exporter. A week later, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani skipped the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, shunning an invitation from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Not only did the Qatari moves underline simmering tension within the Arab Gulf region, they demonstrated Doha’s risk of breaking away from the Arab-Sunni orbit.

While the Qatari moves have been depicted as “symbolic” by Doha and as “insignificant” political manoeuvres by its embittered neighbours, they reflect Qatar’s shifting foreign policy that has been dubious and counterintuitive.

Boycotted by a quartet of Arab states — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — over its alleged support for terror groups, Doha has gradually slid into an unofficial yet open alliance with Iran, the arch-rival of Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, one of the few remaining havens for Islamist groups, notably the Muslim Brotherhood.

Iran, Turkey and Qatar quietly struck a deal in late November in Tehran to create a “joint working group to facilitate the transit of goods between the three countries.” While the agreement seemed like a modest effort to streamline trade flow to Qatar, which can no longer access air, land and sea routes to neighbouring Arab countries, it has proven to be a mechanism to further the agendas of Ankara and Tehran, which are at loggerheads with Saudi Arabia.

It showed that the Qatar-Iran entente, previously concealed, is out in the open. To put it simply: Qatar has irrevocably joined with Ankara and Tehran against its former Arab allies. It has conclusively positioned itself in a regional alliance that pursues geopolitical dominance by driving instability.

Relations between Iran and Turkey are more complicated. The two countries’ foreign policy agendas have sometimes collided, including in Syria, and they each aim to preserve the glory of their former empires.

While Tehran has tried to resurrect a Persian Shia empire through supporting proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere, Ankara has struggled to rediscover the glory of the Ottoman Empire by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups as they sow division in Arab countries and weaken their social fabric.

However, economic interests and a shared antipathy to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, brought Iran and Turkey closer together. The two countries’ trade volume topped $8 billion over the May-October 2018 period and is expected to rise to $12 billion by March next year, Chairman of Iran-Turkey Chamber of Commerce Reza Kami said… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

OMAN WILL BEND, BUT NOT BREAK, FROM GULF PRESSURE
Stratfor, Aug. 31, 2018

The Sultanate of Oman often gets tagged with the cliche of “sleepy” — in part because it has chosen to sit out nearly every major Middle Eastern war since gaining independence in 1971. Bolstered by its reputation for neutrality, it has become an effective diplomatic go-between for bigger powers, including the United States, Iran and Saudi Arabia, allowing it to become friendly to all and foe to none.

But that might be about to change: An assertive Saudi Arabia, under the direction of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and a resentful Abu Dhabi, led by ambitious Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, sense a chance to reel in Oman and force Muscat to adopt policies that align more closely with their own. Benefiting from a high point in relations with Washington, both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have a window of opportunity to challenge Oman’s neutrality. But to succeed, the Gulf giants’ strategy must be subtle — and there are various ways in which Muscat can resist.

The Big Picture
The United States is pursuing a policy of maximum pressure against Iran that includes reducing support for Tehran elsewhere in the world. One of the weak links in the U.S. sanctions campaign against Iran is Oman. Historically, the United States has tolerated and benefited from Oman’s neutrality, but that tolerance will come under pressure, especially from the Saudis and Emiratis, who bear historical grudges against Muscat. Oman is therefore about to face its biggest challenge to its neutrality since the 1970s.

Oman’s Balancing Act
Situated on the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman has one of the longest histories of any Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state. Thanks to its location on the trade routes between east and west, Oman has centuries of experience balancing great powers — whether Turkish, Portuguese, British, Persian or Saudi — against one another to preserve its unique identity and independence. Its small size and relatively small resource base in comparison to its Saudi and Emirati neighbors have provided Muscat with a moderately sized economy. That may limit Oman’s ambitions, but it has also endowed it with just enough wealth to maintain its social contract.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the reigning monarch since 1970, took the throne just as the United Kingdom exited the Persian Gulf. His early years saw him battle communist rebels in the Dhofar Rebellion of 1962-75, and he worked assiduously to unify, both physically and politically, Oman’s restive interior provinces with its more cosmopolitan coast. As a result of the sultan’s experiences, Oman became risk-averse and focused on stability. Muscat, accordingly, has refrained from picking sides as often as possible — a stance that has enabled the sultanate to become a useful interlocutor among Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United States.

The Costs of Neutrality
The country’s overall commitment to neutrality has, however, meant keeping its Arab neighbors at arm’s length — to the particular chagrin of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Oman has consistently hampered Saudi-Emirati efforts to create a tighter GCC and even killed a 2013 proposal to symbolically become part of a Gulf Union. Muscat also refused to join its more powerful Gulf neighbors in imposing a blockade on Doha last year, choosing instead to retain its links with Qatar and maintain its healthy trade and diplomatic relationship with Iran.

Saudi and Emirati officials have also accused Muscat of giving too much influence to Yemen’s Houthis, even as Oman uses its contacts with the rebel group to facilitate negotiations between them and a Saudi-led coalition seeking to reinstall the Red Sea state’s ousted government. Oman and the United Arab Emirates are also competing for influence in Yemen’s eastern al-Mahrah governorate, which was an exclusively Omani sphere of influence prior to the Emirati intervention in the current Yemeni civil war… [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]