Thanks in part to the Washington Post, we now have a fairly decent idea of who was ultimately behind the denigration of relations between Qatar and a number of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, particularly Saudi Arabia.
According to the Washington Post, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post aggravating (but false) quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May. The publication of the quotes, which seemed to show Qatar’s praise for Iran and the Palestinian-based outfit Hamas, was one of the key events that kicked off the current crisis, as they were not received well by Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf states.
The Post reports:
“Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done.”
The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Trump completed his sword-dancing tour of Saudi Arabia in which he essentially riled up an anti-Iranian Middle Eastern army.
On June 5, 2017, Anti-Media reported on a number of leaked emails from the account of the wealthy and influential UAE ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba. Those emails discussed relationships with Qatar. Almost as if on cue, the Gulf crisis went into full swing in the days that followed, which ultimately made Otaiba a prime suspect regarding the denigration of relations between Qatar and the rest of the Arab world.
In a statement released in Washington by Otaiba, the UAE said the Post article was “false.”
“The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article,” the statement said. “What is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Qadafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors.”
Anti-Media has covered some of the geopolitical undertones of this crisis (see here and here), but the UAE’s specific role in this crisis is worth highlighting on its own here. While the UAE is aligned with these other GCC nations in its distaste for Iran and its desire to bring Qatar to its knees, it transpires that the UAE has a hidden agenda of its own.
Qatar hosts the American military’s largest base in the region, al-Udeid, which currently houses over 10,000 American personnel. This is important because the UAE wants this base removed from Qatar and wants to host the American military themselves.
In one of the leaked emails from Otaiba’s Hotmail account, John Hannah, a senior counselor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, complained that an Emirati-owned hotel was hosting a Hamas conference. Otaiba responded that if the U.S. moved its military base out of Qatar, the UAE would move the hotel in question (a tit-for-tat solution).
Traditionally speaking, this was a closer-doors policy of the UAE until Otaiba admitted this strategy publicly.
“If I want to be honest, I think the reason action hasn’t been taken against Qatar is because of the air base…The air base is a very nice insurance policy against any additional pressure,” Otaiba said, as reported by Bloomberg.
“Maybe someone in Congress should have a hearing and just say, you know, ‘Should we consider moving it?’”Otaiba added. “And maybe not moving the entire base. Maybe just distribute to various countries so you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.”
So how does President Trump feel about this dilemma – despite the fact that the Qatar crisis has quite clearly been instigated by other powerful players behind the scenes?
According to the Washington Post, Trump might actually be on board with this proposal.
“We’ll be all right,” he said. “Look, if we ever have to leave we would have 10 countries willing to build us another one, believe me. And they’ll pay for it.