A timely leak from US intelligence appears to have undermined the Saudi-led Arab axis in its damaging spat with Qatar. So damaging was the Gulf crisis to US strategic interests in the oil-rich region that American intelligence was obliged to weigh in and resolve the festering row. That US intervention seems now to have worked.
This week the Saudi bloc – United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – made a dramatic climbdown on earlier draconian demands imposed on the tiny gas-rich Persian Gulf state of Qatar, according to the Associated Press and New York Times.
The climbdown came within days of US media reports which tended to support Qatar’s case in the weeks-long dispute. American news channel NBC cited US intelligence sources corroborating an earlier Washington Post article which claimed that Qatar had been the victim of a smear campaign carried out by the UAE.
In other words, this was US media amplifying their state intelligence agencies’ agenda to maneuver the Gulf crisis.
«Fake news designed to harm Qatar's relations with the US played a major role in the diplomatic split between the tiny Gulf nation and its neighbors, say both US officials and the Qatari government», reported NBC.
Remarkably, as noted in a previous edition of this column, this latest attribution of hacking and fake news in the Gulf by US intelligence and media flatly contradicted an earlier report published by American news channel CNN. Last month, CNN hailed «an exclusive» report, which cited US intelligence sources blaming Russia for the Gulf crisis. Evidently, those earlier US claims against Russia are false.
There is good reason to believe that the new version of hacking in the Gulf centered on the UAE is credible. This is what the Qataris have said all along. Namely, that their official news agency was set up for a smear campaign by the UAE and the Saudis, with the aim of invoking a blockade on the country. That blockade revolves around petty rivalries between the American client states of the Gulf, principally between the more dominant oil-rich Saudi kingdom and gas-rich Qatari state.
The hacking of the Qatar News Agency involved planting false claims apparently made by the Qatari ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, in which he praised Iran as an «Islamic power» – a treacherous statement in the Sunni-dominated Arab kingdoms. That was on May 24. Within days, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut off all diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism.
US President Donald Trump played an inept role in provoking the Gulf crisis. His early support for Saudi Arabia and his one-sided censure of Qatar no doubt emboldened Riyadh and its partners to escalate the blockade.
The Qataris were then given a list of 13 demands to comply with and a deadline of June 23. Those demands included Qatar paying out compensation to its Gulf neighbors for damages allegedly caused by terrorism, and the closure of the Doha-based Al Jazeera news network.
Qatar ignored the deadline and said it was not making any concessions. By that time, wiser heads in Washington realized that Trump had blundered into the Gulf like a bull in a china shop, and his reckless intervention was upsetting the US strategic balance in the oil-rich region. The Qataris rightly sensed that, due to Trump’s impetuousness, the Saudi-led bloc had over-reached in its ambitions to bully. They knew that the US cannot afford a division among its Arab allies, with the implications that such a schism could empower Iran and undermine the global petrodollar system.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has sought to dial back Trump’s reckless support for the Saudis. He even went as far as calling the Saudi-led demands on Qatar «unrealistic».
US intelligence leaks to major media outlets this week supporting the Qatari claims that they were smeared by the Saudi-led camp (the UAE), has had the effect of softening the latter’s imperious stance.
Saudi Arabia and the others have reportedly withdrawn their list of 13 draconian demands. The updated list now comprises just six requests, and those requests are so vague to the point where anyone could sign them. This is a spectacular climbdown. Most notably, their earlier demands for financial reparations from Qatar and the closure of Al Jazeera have been dropped.
The New York Times described the development in anodyne terms as «a step that could pave the way for an early resolution of the crisis».
A more accurate telling is that the Saudi camp has capitulated on its previous intransigence towards Qatar. And US intel leaks via a dutiful US media prompted that capitulation.
The stakes for US strategic interests were simply too high for Washington to risk a prolongation of the Gulf crisis. Trump’s blundering intervention by initially backing the Saudis threatened to blow apart the Gulf. Undercutting the Saudis and the UAE – by lifting the lid on who carried out the fake news hacking against Qatar – was the best way for the US to pull rank.
The dramatic climbdown by the Saudi-led axis this week following damaging US intelligence leaks to American media is proof that Washington called the shots to its Arab clients.
And of equally important note is how US intel and media found it expedient to dump earlier attempts at smearing Russia over fake news in the Gulf.