More dick-waving in the Middle East

What sort of empty-headed statement is this?

Qatar Rift May Boost Extremism, Germany Warns.
‘A dispute among partners and neighbors will…make the wrong ones stronger,’ says German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel

Who is this statement even intended for? Who is being warned here? Qataris? Saudis? Are they going to listen to the German foreign minister? Or maybe it’s aimed at Germans. Okay, so what are Germany’s interests in the Middle East (other than flogging luxury cars) and what leverage do they have? Or is Germany appealing to others to help out? Who, then? The US? The UK? Heh.

I think the German foreign minister spoke these words hoping it would make Germany look “concerned” and clued-up, and imply they should be involved in any plan to make things better. To me they smack of desperation to appear relevant in a potentially serious situation which is going to pan out one way or another wholly unaffected by what the German government says, does, or thinks. Of course, the rise of extremists in the Middle East would not be so much of a problem were Germany not so keen on inviting tens of thousands of them into Europe.

Anyway, irrelevant German warblings aside, things appear to be getting interesting over in the Gulf. Turkey is offering to send troops to prop up the beleaguered Qatari government, and Iran has thrown in its support as well. This means the two sides in the argument are:

1. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt

2. Qatar, Turkey and Iran

Kuwait is staying well out of it, sensible chaps.

The surprising element is Iran coming in on the side of Qatar, or more accurately, the Qataris appearing to accept their help. Iran is quite happy to prop up the governments of other countries, e.g. Syria but it comes at the price of ceding a degree of control to Tehran and allowing Hezbollah and other Shia militias to set up shop on their turf. Perhaps the Qatari rulers think they’ll be toppled without Iranian help and so don’t have much to lose. For a country which is 90% Sunni, this might not end well.

Turkey’s offer of troops is also more for show than anything else. Are Turkish soldiers really going to be fighting in the streets of Doha if it comes down to it? If they’re fighting Saudis they’re going to find themselves running out of ammunition and supplies pretty quickly, and will have to rely on Iran for logistics and air cover (assuming there is any), whereas the Saudis can amass all their stockpiles right next door. If Turkey wants to project power abroad, fighting Saudis in Qatar is probably not a smart way to go about it (but who knows how much of his own bullshit Erdogan believes at this stage?)

Perhaps Turkish troops will be deployed to stop a rival Qatari faction usurping the ruling families, but that’s unlikely to end well either. Are Qataris and other Arabs really going to just let a bunch of isolated Turks who don’t even speak the language swan around in Doha unmolested? I doubt it. The bloodshed will start on day one and won’t let up until the day they leave.

Russia is probably wondering what to do right now. They have usually sided with Iran in that part of the world, but there’s no love lost between them. For all the kissing and cuddling that went on between Russia and Turkey as they buried the hatchet over the shooting down of the plane in 2015 I am far from convinced the two leaders see eye to eye on much – other than to keep Iran’s influence in Syria to a minimum. But most importantly, Qatar with its enormous LNG cargoes has been the biggest threat to Russia’s dominance of the European gas market. Russia will be shedding no tears if Qatar’s LNG shipments get blockaded and the plants shut down. If the Russians have any sense they’ll stay right out of it, except of course to flood the region with as many weapons as it can sell.

The US should also stay right out of it, but it’s going to be hard to see how they can with two of their most important allies squaring off against one another. Iran is already blaming Saudi Arabia for the ISIS attack on its parliament yesterday, and people on Twitter are saying the Americans gave them the green light to do so. This is bollocks, but the Saudi move on Qatar is surely a result of their having been buoyed by Trump’s recent visit and his reconfirmation of the Saudi-US relationship. The US is going to have to work pretty hard to stay out of this one especially if things get nasty, but that’s what they need to do.

Today we have a General Election in the UK which Theresa May’s Conservatives are looking likely to win by a handsome margin. I am hoping that the first thing the new government does is draft up a law saying that anyone who advocates Britain getting involved in any capacity whatsoever amid calls for “something to be done” – even if staged photos of weeping children are plastered all over our media for the umpteenth time – shall be taken into Parliament Square, placed in the stocks, and kicked square up the arse by a serving member of the Parachute Regiment wearing a pair of steel-toed boots.

My guess is that this whole thing is mostly posturing and will be over within a few weeks.


7 thoughts on “More dick-waving in the Middle East

  1. I’d be surprised if Turkey was even half serious. They’re armed forces have been eviscerated since the coup and I’m sure Erdogan would rather have the remaining loyal troops at home.

  2. A quick search shows what the Germans interest is besides luxury cars

    German companies Volkswagen, Deutsche Bank and Siemens, which all list Qatar as a shareholder, as well as railway operator Deutsche Bahn, which is highly active in Doha, all said they were watching the situation and developments in the Gulf region. “The topic indeed is of quite an explosive nature and could turn into a problem for Deutsche Bank if the situation continues to escalate,” an institutional investor, who declined to be named, told Handelsblatt. It remained to be seen whether Germany’s largest bank could continue to do business in the region if customers in other Gulf states started avoiding the lender as a result, the investor said.

    But the German company likely impacted most directly by the row is container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd. The Hamburg-based company only a few weeks ago completed its merger with United Arab Shipping Company (UASC), a Gulf company that counts the state-run Qatar Investment Authority, as well as Saudi Arabia among its major shareholders. As a result of the successful merger, Qatar now is Hapag-Lloyd’s largest shareholder with 14.4 percent, while Saudi Arabia, as well as allied Gulf countries Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, hold a total 13.7 percent of the shares. This power deadlock between the hostile nations could eventually take the Gulf conflict directly into Hapag-Lloyd’s German boardroom, where both a Qatari and a Saudi official have a seat on the supervisory board. Hapag-Lloyd declined to comment on the situation. ”

    the same article also explains why this escalation concerns Germany besides its impact with businesses

    As for the US staying out of it, Good luck, you seem to have missed that Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East with 10,000 troops stationed there in your analysis. Surely that is going to have some impact?

    Kuwait appears to be doing anythign but staying out of it and is trying to be that person who sees two drunks fighting in the street and wants to act as a mediator between the two.

  3. Phil:

    you seem to have missed that Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East with 10,000 troops stationed there in your analysis.


    Perhaps more importantly, Qatar is host to the biggest American military base in the Middle East.

  4. A quick search shows what the Germans interest is besides luxury cars

    So the Germans’ interest is more to protect their pet industries and concern over the parlous state of Deutsche Bank rather than a rise of extremism. Which supports rather nicely what I said here.

  5. The Germans must be smarting after Putin’s lambasting of them in St Petersburg of late.

    The Turk’s position whilst propaganda tells me that it has a Muslim Brotherhood angle. It never made the news but the Qataris and Turks have had a military cooperation pact for a few years. Erdogan is always banging on about the mythical Qatari gas pipeline that would cross Syria and supply cheaper gas and in greater amounts than its current small imported volume of Qatari LNG but maybe not cheaper than Russian piped gas, it’s a myth anyway but it comes up all the time at times like this. Not forgetting that Turkey is locked into a huge long term take or pay legally enforceable international gas supply deals with Russia and is a major client for Russian gas. Maybe he as the Sultan has a new romantic vision of bringing the pearling peninsula back into the Calipha.

    As for Russia as you say they and Qatar are competitors for gas supply, Qatari LNG makes it way all around Europe even as far as Poland, although more expensive they are their major competitor for gas in Europe. Politically there is no love lost between the two nations either, and if it is ever proven that they supported the downing of the Russian Metrojet in Egypt, Russia’s biggest air disaster, Putin could call it an Act of War under the UN.

    Iran are also upping the ante big time with gas supply sourced from the Gulf which is another emerging dynamic in this newly forming chessboard. As for the Tehran incident I can’t help but think that this is not related somehow to the CIA’s appointing of their Dark Prince to the Iranian portfolio. Action follows this guy.

    I guess that you can’t say too much about Totals oil investment in Qatar either.

    I do hope that you are right and it blows over but as it stands now and given the many enemies that it has the tiny Qatari nation could quite easily be thrown under the bus.

  6. @Phil

    My firm also has major Qatari shareholders and we have at least one board meeting in Doha every year. I am a director in our company and have met one of the local shareholders although not in Qatar, he has directors that represent him and the other local shareholders on the board. He is a very pleasant gentleman, educated in London, like most of them, with a very strong affinity to the UK. As Tim said they have been quietly acquiring major assets overseas and it would surprise you how much they actually own.

    In recent years, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Doha as we are heavily involved in the infrastructure construction boom that is underway there. The building of Doha is one of those once in a lifetime things, the city is now taking shape but the amount of construction activity that has taken place over that last four years has been truly mind boggling.

    A major plank of our success in Doha has been due to a vital relationship with a German specialist equipment manufacturer, we have a huge fleet of their equipment in Doha, it is very expensive and the Germans also financed our fleet for us. There are many of these types of relationships going on in Doha and the wider gulf right now.

    So yes, I would say that there are a few Boards with Qatari shareholders feeling a little twitchy at the moment. Foreign interests if anything, particularly western should hopefully steady the ship at the end of the day.

    Coincidentally we had a scheduled Board meeting on Monday (after the dummy spit) and all present including the local Doha directors by video conference unanimously crystallized our strategy of minimizing our gulf exposure and see ourselves incorporating in Singapore in the near term. I think that this sentiment will now be quite common across all Boards with significant Qatari shareholders wherever they may be.

  7. Still no resolution although the Saudi Crown prince looking like a bit of a fool as the Qataris hold out and the situation unfolds.

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