Saudi Arabia and the UAE: Boycotting Qatar and embracing Israel

Saudi Arabia and the UAE: Boycotting Qatar and embracing Israel
Analysis: The Saudi-led blockade of Qatar is closely linked to a bid for rapprochement with Israel, now no longer the main foe of some Gulf countries
5 min read
28 June, 2017
No smoking gun yet, but many signs suggest growing Saudi-Israeli rapprochement [Twitter/ Israel in Arabic]
For no convincing reason, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now willing to instate against Doha the same kind of boycott used in the past by Arab states against Israel, while seeking to fully normalise ties with Tel Aviv despite its ongoing occupation of an Arab nation and the brutal repression of the Palestinian people.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies are officially considering new economic sanctions against Qatar and may ask trading partners to choose between them or Doha, the UAE's ambassador to Russia said on Tuesday.

"There are certain economic sanctions that we can take which are being considered right now," Omar Ghobash, the UAE ambassador to Moscow, said in an interview in London.

"One possibility would be to impose conditions on our own trading partners and say 'you want to work with us? Then you have got to make a commercial choice'," he said.

The expulsion of Qatar from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was "not the only sanction available", the UAE ambassador added.

He may have been referring to countries such as Turkey, which has strongly backed Qatar and stepped up deliveries of vital supplies to Doha as well as deploying a symbolic detachment of troops to a Turkish base in the small Gulf emirate amid the Saudi-led blockade.

The New Arab's sources in the Egyptian diplomatic corps last week revealed a Saudi-Emirati bid to slap such sanctions on Turkey, to deter it from standing by Qatar.

Giving partners the choice between trading with Qatar or trading with the Band of Four, as commentators have dubbed the Saudi Arabia-UAE-Bahrain-Egypt camp, is a dramatic measure last used by Arab states against their once-sworn enemy Israel in the 1980s. Now, some Arab countries are deploying the same tactic against a small, blockaded sisterly Arab nation.

Adding insult to irony, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have at the same time been seeking closer ties with Israel, with little effort to force Tel Aviv to abide by any demands concerning the rights of the Palestinian people it militarily occupies - even as they posted a draconian 13-point ultimatum to Qatar.

Clearly, Doha's support for Palestinian rights, and for relatively independent media outlets led by Al-Jazeera, as well as its moderate line on Iran, has made it a prime target for the alleged Saudi-Israeli alliance.

It should now be no surprise that, for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, BDS should target not Israel, but Qatar.
Saudi-UAE dealings with the country occupying Palestinian and Arab territories since 1948 are so thinly covert that they are almost overt
The best-kept truth

It is not just irony that explains this upending of animosities and the use of the Arab boycott weapon against other Arabs. Rather, appeasing Israel and punishing Qatar are closely linked matters, and there are signs they are coordinated moves.

There are no official relations maintained by either Saudi Arabia or the UAE with Israel. There is no smoking gun here, but Saudi-UAE dealings with the country occupying Palestinian and Arab territories since 1948 are so thinly covert that they are almost overt.

Israeli officials, at pains to hide their glee, have been repeatedly suggesting there is a profound cooperation with Gulf countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia. They say they have been working together against common foe Iran and groups such as Hamas - cutting relations with which has been a key demand made by the Saudis of Qatar.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have never denied Israel's assertions.

In truth, with the rise of Mohammed bin Salman as the de facto king of Saudi Arabia, commentators have suggested an American price for endorsing his bid for the throne, apart from funnelling more of Saudi oil revenues into America's pockets, was normalising ties with Israel. And there are indications Riyadh has started delivering.

Last week, Israel's Channel 2 news station aired a brief interview with a Saudi political commentator named Abed al-Hamid Hakim. The subject was the blockade of Qatar.

For the first time ever, wrote John R Bradley of The Jewish Chronicle, "here was a Saudi national being interviewed live on Israeli TV, complete with Hebrew subtitles. Perhaps more extraordinary, though, was that after word got out in Saudi Arabia about their little chit-chat there was no serious backlash."

"Such an interview could never have taken place without the go-ahead from the very highest levels of the Saudi regime," Bradley noted.
With Qatar's independent foreign policy, it should be no surprise that for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, BDS should target not Israel, but Qatar
#Saudis support normalisation

On the same day Israel was pounding Gaza this week, an Arabic hashtag claiming Saudis supported normalisation with Israel started trending online.

Alleged Saudi tweeters voiced their support for better relations with Israel, although given the Saudi government's organised Twitter propaganda efforts, this may have well been orchestrated.

Whatever the actual significance, the Twitter phenomenon follows a discernible trend. Mujtahid, a high-profile Saudi dissident on Twitter, claimed on Monday that MBS had issued instructions for a media and Twitter campaign to prepare the Saudi public opinion for overt relations with Israel.

Israel itself has noticed. "Israel in Arabic", an account set up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tel Aviv, retweeted using the hashtag. It has also highlighted the interview from Jeddah and a pro-Israeli column published in Saudi daily Al Riyad.

Indeed, in an unprecedented column defending relations with Tel Aviv, Musaid al-Asimi proclaimed there was no reason for Arabs to "unjustifiably demonise" Israel. After praising the peace accords Israel signed with Egypt and Jordan, al-Asimi wrote that Iran, not Israel, must henceforth be considered Saudi Arabia's regional enemy.

Today, Wednesday, Anwar Eshki, a retired Saudi general and a leading advocate of establishing diplomatic and economic relations with Israel - and who visited Israel this time last year - said if Saudi Arabia normalised ties with Tel Aviv, the entire Islamic world would follow suit.

"As far as I know, Saudi Arabia intends to normalise ties with Israel after the implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative," he said in an interview with Deutsche Welle's Arabic edition in reference to a Saudi-proposed peace plan rejected by Israel.

Answering a question about whether ordinary Saudis were ready for this, he said: "If we look at Twitter and comments by Saudis, we will find that they are saying Israel has never attacked the kingdom a single time."

Said al-Arabi is a pseudonym. The author resides in a jurisdiction where the publication of their identity may create a security or freedom of movement issue.

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