The Qatar Crisis – Brig Gen (Retd) Dr. Ephraim Sneh, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue, Netanya Academic College, 15 June 2017
The Qatar Crisis
Brig Gen (Retd) Dr. Ephraim Sneh
Chairman, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue
Netanya Academic College
Marta Murzanska (M.M.): Welcome again to ERPIC. Our guest today is Brigadier General Dr. Ephraim Sneh from Israel. Dr. Sneh is the Chair of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at Netanya Academic College in Israel. Dr. Sneh, thank you very much for joining us today.
Ephraim Sneh (E.S.): My pleasure.
M.M.: Recently, several countries, including three members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt have cut all their ties with Qatar. What, in your opinion, lies in the heart of this diplomatic spat?
E.S.: It’s not just a diplomatic dispute. We have to understand the entire context of this confrontation. There is a struggle in the region. And it is not between the Sunnis and Shias. The struggle is between those Islamist elements who want to impose the more extreme interpretation of Islam on other countries, to destabilize the region in order to take it over. And there are two such forces. One is Iran, and one is the ISIS – the Islamic state – which acts in a different way but to pursue the same hegemony.
Now, the region is divided. On one side you have most of the GCC countries, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt of course. And on the other side you see Qatar tries to take side with Islamists. That’s the point. What are the manifestations of this Qatari position? They support the Islamist organizations, they support the Islamic Brotherhood, and they are financing the giant incitement machine which is called al-Jazeera. And the measures that the GCC countries are taking now are addressed to full scatter, to decide in which side of the fault time it is standing. If Qatar is standing with the Islamist forces, okay, then Qatar will pay price. But if Qatar prefers to join the other side of the fault line which is UAE and Saudi Arabia and so forth, then it’s another picture. And they have to decide. And the purpose of those measures – which are not easy – is to force Qatar to the side. Which side do they take? That’s the way to understand it.
M.M.: Unsurprisingly, Turkey and Iran have offered their support to Qatar and it might suggest that there might be some sort of a regional alignment directed against Saudi Arabia. What is your take on that?
E.S.: Its not surprising that these two countries offered support to Qatar. Iran – because Iran is opposing most of the other Gulf States. They are against Bahrain, against UAE. They have territorial dispute with these the UAE – the islands. They have claims to Bahrain.
So, of course, when there is a dispute what is the message of Iran? “Don’t cross the line to the side of the moderate countries – be with us,” with what they call the axis of “moqâvemat” – the Axis of Resistance, the axis of confrontation against the West and the moderate Arab countries. That is the message for Iran and Turkey.
Turkey is controlled by an Islamist movement. And maybe ideologically Turkey is closer to Iran, and that’s why Turkey offers them a hand and says, “Don’t cross to the camp of UAE and Saudi Arabia, stay in the other side or the fault line and we will support you”.
M.M.: Saudi Arabia, similarly to Qatar, has been long accused of providing support to various radical Islamist groups in the region, in particular in Syria, but also beyond. Has the Saudis’ policy changed in this respect?
E.S.: I think there is a substantial change in the global Saudi policy. I think that their support of radical Muslim movements is substantially reduced and they understand that this is its right to foster the tiger that one day may eat you. It seems to me that today you don’t see this worldwide support by Saudi Arabia to madrassas and religious Muslim schools and so forth. It seems to me they understood it is the wrong policy. There is one question, and for me as an Israeli, is important how it would affect Gaza Strip. Qatar supports the Hamas regime in Gaza. Now, if Qatar will not be able to do it anymore – and I hope this will be the case because they are supposing a terrorist regime in Gaza – then the other GCC countries will have to step in and to replace Qatar in this support to Gaza. The situation in Gaza can be changed if the wealthy Arab countries will offer to the people of Gaza alternative to the regime of Hamas sponsored by Qatar. And this is rhetoric for the other Arab countries, those who now confront with Qatar, to step in instead of Qatar and to support the people in Gaza, but not to support the Hamas regime – this is very important distinction.
If someone want to support people in Gaza, should do it through the government in Ramallah, the administration of President Abbas, that they are the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
M.M.: But does, in your opinion, such an alternative exist?
We should not underestimate how combustible the situation in Gaza is. We are now in June, it’s hot, and they will have only few hours of electricity a day. Food can get rotten, people have no air condition, hospitals – they are in poor condition. And this is a time to change the equation in Gaza, but it can be done only if there is a combined political, economic, military measures – it will change the situation Gaza fundamentally.
M.M.: Since we’re talking about Gaza and Hamas, and obviously Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, how does Qatar support the Muslim Brotherhood? We know that the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi is hosted by Qatar, but what are other forms of support for it?
E.S.: Qatar supports Hamas financially. Till the very recent day they shelter the leadership of Hamas and we heard that some Hamas activists were forced to leave Qatar to somewhere else. And again, this was a good sign which showed that some compliance of the Qatari government with the demands of the Arab States.
M.M.: And the alliance between the Qatari government and the Muslim Brotherhood – is it an ideological one?
E.S.: You don’t know if the policy of Qatar is motivated by ideology or by interests. And you can’t judge it clearly. But Qatar is the bottom line. They support Hamas, they support the Muslim Brotherhood. So for the side of those countries that feel threatened by this movement, it’s very natural that they try to push Qatar to stop this support, because they consider it extremely hostile measure. If Qatar supports the enemies on certain Arab regimes, it’s quite natural they want to dissuade them, to try to force them, or to convince them in the hard way to wave this support of Hamas and other subversive terrorist movements.
M.M.: Dr. Sneh, thank you very much for your time and for joining us today.
E.S.: Thank you.