Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. After the break in Qatari and Saudi relations, much is being made of how this will effect US-Arab relations, but experts fear the real damage is on the Arab relations built over decades and now shredded in minutes.
Yesterday, Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and the Maldives severed their ties with Qatar. The Gulf Arab states and Egypt have long resented Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Egyptian-based Muslim brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.
America has located one of its largest air base operations in the desert outside the Qatari capital of Doha which is home to close to 11,000 American military personnel. However, after the recent visit of President Trump to the Middle East, ties with Saudi Arabia have strengthened, putting the USA in an awkward position.
The American Central Command (CENTCOM) military base in Qatar was set up in 2003 after it was moved from the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. The base, which boasts a long runway of 12,500 feet, is an important facility for US forces as it can accommodate up to 120 aircraft.
The base in Qatar serves as a logistics, command and basing hub for the CENTCOM area of operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan, so to wake up and find it sitting in a nation that supports terrorists is a pretty big issue for Trump to get past.
Trump during his recent visit focused his attention on Saudi Arabia and the UAE perhaps ignoring Qatar suggesting Trump’s policies are directed towards the two countries at the expense of Qatar and other weaker states in the region. Experts agree the terrorist issue will give Trump some “wiggle” room in dealing with the Qataris.
During a press conference on Monday in Sydney, American Defense Secretary James Mattis and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered US support in brokering a solution between the feuding nations.
“I think what we’re witnessing is a growing list of some irritants in the region that have been there for some time, and obviously they have now bubbled up to a level that some countries have decided they needed to take action in an effort to have those interests addressed. We’d certainly encourage those parties to sit down together and address these differences.” Tillerson stated.
A number of analysts have said that the U.S. is trying everything possible to bring peace to the region since it relies heavily on these nations including Qatar, in its fight against the Islamic State. US Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told media that a diplomatic split between Qatar and other Arab nations won’t affect the war against the Islamic State and other U.S. operations.
Meanwhile, the American military in the region also lauded Qatar for its “enduring commitment to regional security” and said US flights out of Al-Udeid airbase in Qatar were unaffected by the Gulf diplomatic crisis.