The Middle East: Are Ominous Clouds Forming?

 

It’s no surprise that disruptive situations are developing in the Middle East; that seems to be the normal state of affairs. Lately I’ve noticed some situations that independently would barely raise eyebrows; collectively, however, I’m concerned that the area is heating up more than usual, and I believe these events will affect not only the region, but will have implications for the US.

It’s been widely reported that Qatar supports terrorism, but you may not be aware of the level of that support.

As for the Qatari regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a State Department cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats referred to Qatar as the largest funder of terrorism in the world.

According to the Financial Times, the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Saudis and their allies was their discovery that in April, Qatar paid Iran, its Iraqi militias and al-Qaida forces in Syria up to a billion dollars to free members of the royal family held captive in southern Iraq and 50 terrorists held captive in Syria.        Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

As a result, the Saudis, UAE and Egypt have slapped economic sanctions on Qatar, demanding that it sever ties with Iran. President Trump has condemned the Qataris, only to have his comments soft-pedaled by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The most obvious difficulty is that Qatar spent more than $1 billion constructing the Al Udeid Air Base outside of Doha. The Qataris have assured us that base operations will not be interrupted and that the 10,000 US service members will not be affected. Time will tell.

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon suggest that Iran’s response to these actions might push Iran to abandon the nuclear agreement and resume its efforts to “acquire a nuclear option.” The US now finds itself directly in a conflict between Sunni and Shiite factions.

Dealings with Qatar aren’t the only complications developing in the Middle East. Reports on the growing strength of Hezbollah are raising alarms. Ron Prosor, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, points to the military strengthening of Hezbollah and the relationship between Lebanon and the terrorist organization

Hezbollah is sponsored by Iran and has become increasingly brazen in the last decade. It is now more militarily powerful than most North Atlantic Treaty Organization members. It has 150,000 missiles and could launch 1,500 of them a day. From the ground, air or sea, it can strike anywhere in Israel. Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, hasn’t distanced the Lebanese army from Iran’s proxy. Rather, he has embraced it. ‘Hezbollah’s weapons do not contradict the national project,’ he said in February, but are ‘a principal element of Lebanon’s defense.’

Prosor is calling on the US to stop Hezbollah by sponsoring the revision of the ineffective U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which does nothing to stop Hezbollah from building up its military infrastructure. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon or Unifil must be empowered to disarm Hezbollah and demilitarize South Lebanon. I’m not optimistic that this will occur but if it doesn’t, the entire Middle East, not just Israel, could be at serious risk.

President Trump’s announcement that he would once again waive the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was greeted outside of Israel with shoulder shrugs; his decision, however, was seen as a betrayal by some in Israel. I suspect that the president sees this decision as a tactic to persuade the Palestinians to come to the negotiation table. He may also try to persuade Israel to stop building in the settlement areas (which was a useless strategy the last time this was done). This pressure will only create greater resentment by the Israelis.

Just following the President’s announcement, John Bolton spoke at an event in Israel. He was awarded the Guardian of Zion award, and in his acceptance speech, shared his vision  for resolving the Palestinian-Israel conflict, as described by Caroline Glick:

Bolton began his discussion Monday evening by rejecting the ‘two-state solution.’ The two-state model, he noted, has been tried and has failed repeatedly for the past 70 years. There is no reason to believe that it will succeed now. This is particularly true, he said, given the lack of Palestinian social cohesion.

Hamas controls Gaza. The PLO, which is supposed to be Israel’s peace partner, barely controls parts of Judea and Samaria. At a time when more cohesive Arab societies are unraveling, the notion that a Palestinian state would survive and advance regional peace and stability is laughable, Bolton argued.

Bolton then turned to his preferred policy for resolving the Palestinian conflict with Israel, which he dubbed ‘the three-state solution.’ Under his plan, Egypt and Jordan would work with Israel to solve the Palestinian conflict. Egypt would take over the Gaza Strip and Jordan would negotiate the status of Judea and Samaria with Israel.

At least John Bolton has a realistic view of the area’s conflicts. Although the president has said that Israel and the Palestinians must be the ones to decide the outcome of a resolution, I think he is unrealistic to think that negotiation is an option. I hope that he will eventually realize the intransigence of the Palestinians, and finally support Israel’s approach, whatever that may be. At some point, Israel will need to commit to a resolution strategy and require the Palestinians to comply, since the Palestinians are only interested in destroying Israel. Ironically, the president may be pushing Israel to finally act on their own. As Caroline Glick says:

The time has come, at the outset of the second 50 years of Israeli control over Judea and Samaria, for Israel to take matters into its own hands. Our leaders must stop beating around the bush. They need to use the powers they have to secure Israel’s military and civilian interests in Judea and Samaria for the next 50 years as best they can. And they need to stop waiting for someone else to solve our problems for us.

These are only a few areas of major concern. I haven’t mentioned Saudi Arabia’s fighting in Yemen, the Islamic State attack on Iran, the Syrian civil war, and Syria’s use of deadly sarin gas. We need to be paying close attention to the Middle East, because our own safety and security may be at greater risk than ever.

There are 78 comments.

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  1. Trink Coolidge
    Trink
    @Trink

    Susan Quinn: We need to be paying close attention to the Middle East, because our own safety and security may be at greater risk than ever.

    No question about it.   I know someone who is investing seriously in oil stocks.  Dark.   Very dark.

    • #1
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I haven’t looked for a recent update on our progress in extricating ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Still, if the area goes up in flames, the world will be affected. Thanks, Trink.

    • #2
  3. outlaws6688 Inactive
    outlaws6688
    @outlaws6688

    I’m sure the Neocons will be hounding the right to get into a war. I just hope Trump doesn’t listen to them.

    • #3
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    You and me both, outlaw! Right now we have to persuade the Saudis to get out Yemen; I understand that is not a civil war as much as the rise of alQaeda. The last thing anyone needs to be doing is strengthening any terrorist group.

    • #4
  5. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Susan Quinn: Although the president has said that Israel and the Palestinians must be the ones to decide the outcome of a resolution, I think he is unrealistic to think that negotiation is an option. I hope that he will eventually realize the intransigence of the Palestinians, and finally support Israel’s approach, whatever that may be.

    Excellent piece, Susan. The Middle East again and always, it seems, is synonymous with turmoil.  Unfortunately I am not convinced the Israelis are operating with a single mind. Without that we can’t do much to help them.

    And how has Qatar remained under the radar all these years? Until now I have thought they were an ally of sorts because of our huge military presence in that country. All of the sudden they are the largest financial supporter of terrorism and have been for years. What? Living here in the middle of this wonderful country it is easy to lose sight of how dangerous this world is.

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    cdor (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn: Although the president has said that Israel and the Palestinians must be the ones to decide the outcome of a resolution, I think he is unrealistic to think that negotiation is an option. I hope that he will eventually realize the intransigence of the Palestinians, and finally support Israel’s approach, whatever that may be.

    Excellent piece, Susan. The Middle East again and always, it seems, is synonymous with turmoil. Unfortunately I am not convinced the Israelis are operating with a single mind. Without that we can’t do much to help them.

    And how has Qatar remained under the radar all these years? Until now I have thought they were an ally of sorts because of our huge military presence in that country. All of the sudden they are the largest financial supporter of terrorism and have been for years. What? Living here in the middle of this wonderful country it is easy to lose sight of how dangerous this world is.

    You are correct! The biggest problem for Israel may be agreeing amongst themselves. It will probably take a crisis for agreement. I don’t want to think what that would mean. Thanks, cdor.

    • #6
  7. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    I figured that when the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians teamed up to sanction them it was a Sunni-Shiite thing. Looks to me that they just want those Qatari Banks funding Sunni terrorism only.

    • #7
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    WI Con (View Comment):
    I figured that when the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians teamed up to sanction them it was a Sunni-Shiite thing. Looks to me that they just want those Qatari Banks funding Sunni terrorism only.

    What Sunni terrorism?  ;-)

    • #8
  9. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    There is more than a little economic warfare going on here.    Qatar is the richest (per capita) country in the world.    And that wealth is built in an enormous natural gas field Qatar shares with Iran.    Qatar’s LNG is not subject to OPEC.     And as such, is a thorn in Saudi Arabia’s side.    Qatar akso has tried to build a LNG pipeline across Syria to give it access to European markets.    This would be a huge problem for Russia who is currently Europe’s biggest supplier.    Russia is not shy about using gas as a cudgel against European policies it disapproves of.   So Russia’s puppet Assad said “”nyet” to the pipeline.    So lots of Qatar’s ‘support for terrorism’ is really them doing business with Iran with whom geography has made them business partners; and Qatar’s support for anyone who might bring down Assad.

    Saudi Arabia is exploiting this opportunity to take the nouveau rich And OPEC independent Quararis down a peg or two or three

    • #9
  10. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Susan Quinn: Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon suggest that Iran’s response to these actions might push Iran to abandon the nuclear agreement and resume its efforts to “acquire a nuclear option.” The US now finds itself directly in a conflict between Sunni and Shiite factions.

    The agreement was a sham and Iran has barely changed the nature of their pursuit of nuclear weapons. They kept whatever clandestine program they can maintain in huge off-limits military sites and they get to build a huge nuclear infrastructure that can be quickly turned over to large scale weapons production.

    They assuredly already have a nuclear option. Thus, anything that gets them to play their hand sooner rather than later is likely better.

    • #10
  11. Gumby Mark Thatcher
    Gumby Mark
    @GumbyMark

    Bolton is unrealistic as usual.  Why would Egypt want to take on the headache of the Gaza Strip?  And the last thing the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan wants is to absorb more perpetually dissatisfied Palestinians into its state and increase that country’s instability, placing the monarchy into further jeopardy.

    • #11
  12. Gumby Mark Thatcher
    Gumby Mark
    @GumbyMark

    At some point, Israel will need to commit to a resolution strategy and require the Palestinians to comply, since the Palestinians are only interested in destroying Israel.

    No, no, no.  The best thing Israel and the rest of the world could do is ignore the situation.  Right now, most of the Sunni world is focused on the Iranian threat; Israel and the Palestinians are a backwater.  Leave it that way.  The Trump administration should not attempt to restart negotiations towards a settlement.  The Palestinians, on their own, are incapable of destroying Israel.

     

    • #12
  13. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    There is more than a little economic warfare going on here. Qatar is the richest (per capita) country in the world. And that wealth is built in an enormous natural gas field Qatar shares with Iran. Qatar’s LNG is not subject to OPEC. And as such, is a thorn in Saudi Arabia’s side. Watar akso has tried to build a LNG pipeline across Syria to give it access to European markets. This would be a huge problem for Russia who is currently Europe’s biggest supplier. Russia is not shy about using gas as a cudgel against European policies it disapproves of. So Russia’s puppet Assad said “”nyet” to the pipeline. So lots of Qatar’s ‘support for terrorism’ is really them doing business with Iran with whom geography has made them business partners; and Qatar’s support for anyone who might bring down Assad.

    Saudi Arabia is exploiting this opportunity to take the nouveau rich And OPEC independent Quararis down a peg or two or three

    I don’t understand. What do you mean by “doing business with Iran”? If Russia and Syria are against Qatari gas exports, why would Qatar be kind to the third member of that alliance? If anything, Qatar’s pipeline interest would have them opposing Russia/Assad/Iran and perhaps trying to make nice with and between the Saudis, Jordanians, the Syrian opposition, and Turkey.

    • #13
  14. Gumby Mark Thatcher
    Gumby Mark
    @GumbyMark

    As for the Qatari regime itself, it has massively financed jihadist groups for more than 20 years. Qatar is a major bankroller not only of al-Qaida and Hamas but of militias associated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In a State Department cable from 2009 published by WikiLeaks, US diplomats referred to Qatar as the largest funder of terrorism in the world.

    Bigger than the Saudis?  Someone needs to correct Hirsi Ali.

     

    • #14
  15. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Gumby Mark (View Comment):
    Bolton is unrealistic as usual. Why would Egypt want to take on the headache of the Gaza Strip? And the last thing the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan wants is to absorb more perpetually dissatisfied Palestinians into its state and increase that country’s instability, placing the monarchy into further jeopardy.

    In fact, I have heard talk of Egypt possibly ceding some Sinai territory to Gaza. A fraction of the aid that Hamas and the PA get from the Gulf states and West would easily make it worth Egypt’s while.

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    So lots of Qatar’s ‘support for terrorism’ is really them doing business with Iran with whom geography has made them business partners; and Qatar’s support for anyone who might bring down Assad.

    Isn’t there a contradiction here, Ekosj? Qatar is supporting Iran but not Assad?

    • #16
  17. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    They assuredly already have a nuclear option. Thus, anything that gets them to play their hand sooner rather than later is likely better.

    I agree with your points, ctlaw, but how would their acting sooner be a better outcome?

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Gumby Mark (View Comment):
    Bolton is unrealistic as usual. Why would Egypt want to take on the headache of the Gaza Strip? And the last thing the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan wants is to absorb more perpetually dissatisfied Palestinians into its state and increase that country’s instability, placing the monarchy into further jeopardy.

    If Egypt controls Gaza they would have more control over Hamas’ activity. My hope is that Palestinians will realize, as many already do, that living under Israel’s governance is a pretty good deal.

    • #18
  19. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    They assuredly already have a nuclear option. Thus, anything that gets them to play their hand sooner rather than later is likely better.

    I agree with your points, ctlaw, but how would their acting sooner be a better outcome?

    Only Israel and Saudi Arabia are destroyed rather than Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US.

    • #19
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Gumby Mark (View Comment):
    The Trump administration should not attempt to restart negotiations towards a settlement. The Palestinians, on their own, are incapable of destroying Israel.

    I agree with this, Mark. The Palestinians, however, can wreak havoc in the meantime, and if they decided to start a war, they might have plenty of help, such as from Hamas and/or Hezbollah.

    • #20
  21. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Gumby Mark (View Comment):
    Bolton is unrealistic as usual. Why would Egypt want to take on the headache of the Gaza Strip? And the last thing the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan wants is to absorb more perpetually dissatisfied Palestinians into its state and increase that country’s instability, placing the monarchy into further jeopardy.

    If Egypt controls Gaza they would have more control over Hamas’ activity. My hope is that Palestinians will realize, as many already do, that living under Israel’s governance is a pretty good deal.

    First, they would have to heavily militarize it. Israel would not like that. It also would probably weaken Sisi’s defenses against a coup.

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    First, they would have to heavily militarize it. Israel would not like that. It also would probably weaken Sisi’s defenses against a coup.

    I don’t know if they would need to heavily militarize it. Gaza leadership has been ineffectual, and its people might be happy to see leadership that can actually get its act together. If military is needed, I don’t think it would need to be long-term. It’s also worthwhile remembering that the Arab states are beginning to think about working, to a limited degree, with Israel, regarding security information.

    • #22
  23. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    There is more than a little economic warfare going on here. Qatar is the richest (per capita) country in the world. And that wealth is built in an enormous natural gas field Qatar shares with Iran. Qatar’s LNG is not subject to OPEC. And as such, is a thorn in Saudi Arabia’s side. Watar akso has tried to build a LNG pipeline across Syria to give it access to European markets. This would be a huge problem for Russia who is currently Europe’s biggest supplier. Russia is not shy about using gas as a cudgel against European policies it disapproves of. So Russia’s puppet Assad said “”nyet” to the pipeline. So lots of Qatar’s ‘support for terrorism’ is really them doing business with Iran with whom geography has made them business partners; and Qatar’s support for anyone who might bring down Assad.

    Saudi Arabia is exploiting this opportunity to take the nouveau rich And OPEC independent Quararis down a peg or two or three

    I don’t understand. What do you mean by “doing business with Iran”? If Russia and Syria are against Qatari gas exports, why would Qatar be kind to the third member of that alliance? If anything, Qatar’s pipeline interest would have them opposing Russia/Assad/Iran and perhaps trying to make nice with and between the Saudis, Jordanians, the Syrian opposition, and Turkey.

    The natural gas field sits offshore if Qatar and is shared between Qatar and Iran.    So they are de facto business partners in the only business that matters in Qatar.    They do opposes Assad.    That means they finance any and all Assad opposition … Even the most unsavory ones.

    • #23
  24. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    First, they would have to heavily militarize it. Israel would not like that. It also would probably weaken Sisi’s defenses against a coup.

    I don’t know if they would need to heavily militarize it. Gaza leadership has been ineffectual, and its people might be happy to see leadership that can actually get its act together. If military is needed, I don’t think it would need to be long-term. It’s also worthwhile remembering that the Arab states are beginning to think about working, to a limited degree, with Israel, regarding security information.

    The prospect of Egyptian rule improving things is a reason why Hamas would violently resist.

    • #24
  25. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    The natural gas field sits offshore if Qatar and is shared between Qatar and Iran. So they are de facto business partners in the only business that matters in Qatar.

    Are they coordinating production?

     

    • #25
  26. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    Are they coordinating production?

    No, not when I was seconded to and worked for RasGas (an ExxonMobil affiliate). Iran had been producing gas from the North Field prior to production from the North Field in Qatar. ExxonMobil provided expertise in how to develop Qatar’s portion of the field.

    • #26
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Scott Wilmot (View Comment):

    ctlaw (View Comment):
    Are they coordinating production?

    No, not when I was seconded to and worked for RasGas (an ExxonMobil affiliate). Iran had been producing gas from the North Field prior to production from the North Field in Qatar. ExxonMobil provided expertise in how to develop Qatar’s portion of the field.

    Scott, are there any implications that we can draw from this information?

    • #27
  28. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    It’s been a while since I lived in Qatar (2004-2009).Some anecdotes:

    Then, as now the Qataris are a minority in their own country (it is full mostly of guest workers: Filipinos, Indians, Nepalese, Westerners, etc., etc.).

    Most Qataris are Sunni, Shiites are a minority.

    We would have priests from the Air Base come say mass for us – they spoke of how well the Qatari military liked having us there (they viewed Iran as a threat).

    The government allowed us to build a Catholic Church and Education City thrived.

    I have fond memories of living there (very safe, good school for my kids) but for the most part we were outcasts as Christians and Westerners.

    A very strange place.

    I’m sure I have not answered your question Susan, but I think the Qataris are probably afraid of both Iran and Saudi Arabia of taking over the North Field. It makes them incredibly rich.

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Scott Wilmot (View Comment):
    I’m sure I have not answered your question Susan, but I think the Qataris are probably afraid of both Iran and Saudi Arabia of taking over the North Field. It makes them incredibly rich.

    Not exactly, but you’ve filled in the picture of Qatar and that’s very helpful! Thanks, Scott.

    • #29
  30. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    This Qatar thing has been brewing for a while.  From a 2014 NYT article:

    Propelling the barrage of accusations against Qatar is a regional contest for power in which competing Persian Gulf monarchies have backed opposing proxies in contested places like Gaza, Libya and especially Egypt. In Egypt, Qatar and its Al Jazeera network backed the former government led by politicians of the Muslim Brotherhood. Other gulf monarchies long despised the Brotherhood because they saw it as a well-organized force that could threaten their power at home, and they backed the military takeover that removed the Islamist president.

    Qatar is hardly the only gulf monarchy to allow open fund-raising by sheikhs that the United States government has linked to Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the Nusra Front: Sheikh Ajmi and most of the others are based in Kuwait and readily tap donors in Saudi Arabia, sometimes even making their pitches on Saudi- and Kuwaiti-owned television networks. United States Treasury officials have singled out both Qatar and Kuwait as “permissive jurisdictions” for terrorist fund-raising.

    In many cases, several analysts said, Qatar has sought to balance a wager on the future of political Islam as a force in the region with a simultaneous desire not to alienate the West. It has turned a blind eye to private fund-raising for Qaeda-linked groups to buy weapons in Syria, for example, but it has not provided direct government funding or weapons. At times…Western pressure has moved Qatar to at least partly suppress some of the overt fund-raising.

    Qatar openly provides a base for leaders of the Palestinian militant group Hamas — deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel — as well as money to help prop up its government in Gaza. But American and Israeli officials say Qatar has stopped short of providing the group with weapons, as Iran does.

    • #30

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