In 2014 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar to emphasize their objections to various policies adopted and actions taken by the Gulf state. As a result, the reigning emir abdicated in favor of his son. Ambassadors were restored and the Gulf states confidently expected important changes in Qatari policies. It didn’t happen, and the son proved just as bad an actor as his father.

For years, Qatar has been using its huge wealth from natural gas exports to fund a number of terrorist organizations in the Middle East, starting with the Muslim Brotherhood.  It has also taken a very pro-Iranian stance in direct confrontation with Iran’s enemy, Saudi Arabia. Finally, the Saudis and the Emiratis decided enough is enough. This decision was due to the following factors (as well as others that may be revealed in the future):

• There has been no significant change in Qatari support for and funding of terrorism and jihadism.

• There has been no change at all in Qatari support for the Iranian regime.

• Qatar recently paid about US$1 billion to Iran and to al-Qaida affiliates in Syria to ransom Qatari hostages kidnapped in Iraq or captured in Syria.

• There has been no significant change in Qatari support for and funding of terrorism and jihadism.

• There has been no change at all in Qatari support for the Iranian regime.

• Qatar recently paid about US$1 billion to Iran and to al-Qaida affiliates in Syria to ransom Qatari hostages kidnapped in Iraq or captured in Syria.

• Following the recent regional meeting in Riyadh, the emir was quoted as saying that Saudi and Emirati policies towards Iran were wrong and should be changed.

• A constant stream of pro-Iran and pro-jihadi propaganda emanating from the influential Qatari media conglomerate al-Jazeera.

• US President Donald Trump’s encouragement of Sunni Arab solidarity in the confrontation with Iran and the jihadists in his recent highly successful trip to Riyadh.

Using the emir’s alleged insults as a pretext, Saudi Arabia the UAE and Bahrain, now joined by Egypt (and since by other countries), took the following extraordinarily harsh measures:

• Severed diplomatic relations.

• Severed all economic and financial relations, and declared a land, sea and air blockade of the emirate.

• Demanded personnel and program changes at al-Jazeera.

• Ordered their citizens out of Qatar and all Qataris out of their countries (an exception to be made for those Qataris performing the pilgrimage to Mecca).

• Demanded the withdrawal of the Qatari contingent fighting the Houthis in Yemen (there is a rumor that one of the reasons for the anti-Qatar measures is that it was discovered that Qatari troops were clandestinely providing information about alliance military plans to the Houthis).

Such a series of coordinated measures can only mean that the alliance objective is regime change in Qatar, as the last time, but this time resulting in a total redirection of Qatari regional policies and actions.  In answer to the question in the title, Qatar is certainly not kaput (eliminating a Gulf state would be an extremely dangerous precedent), but the regime may well be.

For years, Qatar has been using its huge wealth from natural gas exports to fund a number of terrorist organizations in the Middle East

Whether or not it is will be decided soon, and the decisions made by other actors will be an important and perhaps decisive factor.

In order of potential significance:

• Kuwait and Oman, the two members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that have not yet joined the alliance against Qatar. Both countries have offered to try to resolve the conflict peacefully. Kuwait and Oman have traditionally been less anti-Iranian than the others, although they have not been accused of fostering or financing jihadism.

• Turkey. The Erdogan government and Qatar have collaborated on a number of fronts over the past few years and the Turks cannot be pleased by the threat to their ally.

• Israel.  This development is of extraordinary potential significance to the Jewish state. Extensive sub rosa contacts between the Israeli armed forces and the intelligence community, especially with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, may well serve as the basis for more open cooperation and even diplomatic recognition on the part of the Saudis and Emiratis.

• The United States. The US has a very important air base in Qatar and has traditionally held off on condemning Qatari policies and actions as a result.  

• Iran. The Iranian regime is furious over this development. Its principal Arab ally is under attack and Iran can be expected to take measures to counter the alliance’s actions.  If it declares it will prevent the sea and air blockade from being enforced it has the means to do so. Such activity might easily lead to a dangerous military confrontation, especially if Iran sees this as an excuse to increase support for the majority-Shia population of Bahrain.

In short, whatever was the spark that finally set fire to the smoldering resentments of the alliance members over Qatari policy, the game is far from over. Whatever the final outcome is, it will represent a turning point for the region. Nothing of similar significance has happened in the Middle East since the onset of the “Arab Spring.”