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Possible Scenarios vis-à-vis the Qatar Crisis

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

 

Mehdi Motahharnia
University professor, political analyst, doctoral degree in socio-cultural futurology and political information technology

The ongoing Qatar crisis is surrounded by many kinds of sensitivities, which fall within the big puzzle of the existing regional crises. This sensitivity is not a result of the nature of the crisis, but is the outcome of the breakout of this crisis in a meaningful temporal geography, which cannot be taken lightly. The time of this crisis has coincided with the United States’ effort to contain China as America’s strategic priority in the 21st century. Kissinger’s effort to keep the United States from falling into “Thucydides Trap,” which had been described by Graham Allison, aims to achieve this goal, so that, this containment could be accomplished not through an inevitable conflict with China, but through purposive convergence. There are many questions with regard to this crisis, but apart from those questions, basic questions posed to Iran's analytic community – including active addressees – is the future quality of its outcomes and consequences of this crisis for Iran's goals and national security:

1.      What is the position of this crisis in the geography of future management of the region?

2.      What will be the final outcomes of this crisis for the region?

3.      What will be the consequences of this crisis for the region?

4.      What effect will this crisis have on configuration of fluid convergences and divergences in the region?

5.      How possible development will evolve?

 

-       Scenarios vis-à-vis the Qatar crisis

Scenarios are actually images that transcend the limits of time and are used to describe future prospects, so that, we would be able to proceed from the primary existing position to possible, probable, desirable and preferable future positions in order to move toward more informed future options.

 

-       An image of the status quo

The studied environment is a region, which I have called Heartland New. Heartland New is part of the Big Heartland, which extends from Northwest Africa to China and includes the new Heartland, Heartland New, and Upper Heartland. Control of this region seems to be inevitable if the goal is continuation of the power that has been institutionalized in past generations of the world order. Big global powers in the tumultuous world of future must pay attention to this region both from the viewpoint of identity and identity-based existence of power in the lower layer of change, and at the turbulent level of change in the geometry of power at the upper level of power.

Qatar is a strategic peninsula with a geoeconomic body and high strategic code in the Persian Gulf. It is a rich and influential microstate located between the United Arab Emirates and the small island nation of Bahrain. It is a piece of land attached to the Arabian desert in the form of an appendix in the lower part of the Persian Gulf. One of the main municipalities of Qatar is al-Mafjar district, where the port town of Ar Ru'ays forms the northernmost part of this peninsula. This district has an area of 902 square kilometer (about 350 square miles) and is projected into the Persian Gulf with longitudinal coordinates higher than Iran's Abu Musa and Sirri islands.

Qatar started to develop its military relations with the United States during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. Just a few weeks after American forces toppled the government of Baghdad in April 2003, the central command of the US army shifted its regional air operation command center from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which is just a few kilometer form the Qatari capital city of Doha.

Qatar is also one of the biggest customers of advanced American weaponry. For example, Qatar signed an agreement in June 2017 to buy 11 billion dollars worth of American Apache helicopters as well as Patriot and Javelin air defense missile systems.

Although Qatar is host to a US military base, it has forced Washington not to openly admit that military missions have been carried out through Al Udeid Air Base. Qatari leaders, like their other counterparts in the Persian Gulf Arab states, do not want Washington to openly confirm that military missions have been conducted through their air bases, because they are wary about being considered too friendly toward the United States. The United States, for its part, has respected their demand and has not openly confirmed that its B-1 bombers and other US jets use Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base to conduct their missions. However, it is a fact that American jets use air bases in the Persian Gulf Arab states for refueling and to conduct other missions over Iraq.

The US Air Force, however, has publicly announced that its C-130 and C-17 cargo planes had used Al Udeid Air Base in August 2013 in a humanitarian mission to airdrop foodstuff to homeless Izadi people around Sinjar Mountain in northern Iraq. At the same time, Michèle Flournoy, the former US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, who also serves on the Board of Directors of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), has warned that Qatar should not think that the United States would tolerate the steps it takes in support of extremist groups.

She has noted that Qatar should not count too much on the power that it thought it had as a result of hosting the US army base. Al Udeid Air Base, the American official said, was a very good facility for the US army, but it was not impossible for the United States to take its forces to another base. As a result, Flournoy warned, it was a good time for Qatar to revisit its strategy with due care.

At the same time, a deputy speaker at US Congress said a number of American lawmakers had urged the US administration to transfer American aircraft to another base. He added that although the Obama administration was not seriously taking that demand into account, some lawmakers asked why the United States should run an air base in and sign arms deal with a country, which is accused of supporting Hamas and other extremist groups.

Despite being accused of supporting Daesh, Qatar has been part of the US-led international coalition set up to fight Daesh. On the whole, Qatar is a small and rich country, which is trying to maintain its 360-degree influence. However, instead of relying on chance and mere luck and betting on future outlook of their power, Qatari leaders try to make sure that regardless of who takes charge of the Middle East’s affairs, they will retain their influence. This is how their conflicting, and at times contradictory, policies in the region can be understood. It is also for this reason that some analysts think that the ongoing crisis will determine Qatar’s fate in the “possible big war of the Persian Gulf.”

 

  •   Existing certainties:
  •  The Arabized nature of Saudi Arabian and Qatari societies
  •   Similarity of environment in the two main poles of the crisis;
  •   An oil-dominated and mercantilist economy in both countries and rivalry among them with regard to economic matters;
  •   Internal and structural conflicts as well as power activism in the field of domestic policies in both poles of the crisis;
  •  Serious ideological frictions as a result of their support for different regional actors;
  •   Dependence of both poles of the crisis on policies of transregional countries;
  •   Fluctuating convergence between the two poles of the crisis within the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council;
  •   Interaction between international and regional powers during the transition period of regional and international orders;
  •   Existence of religious communities with ideological tendencies in both poles of power, which include a variety of jihadist and Takfiri groups;
  •  Existence of armies, which are equipped with advanced weapons, but lack manpower of adequate quality and quantity to take advantage of those weapons;
  •   Engagement in an arms race;
  •   Existence of a securitized atmosphere based on a negative security discourse as a result of intelligence and security dependence on transregional governments; and
  •   Existence of extralegal decision-making structures based on the will of rulers within framework of a family-based and tribal political and decision-making system.

 

  •   Uncertainties
  •   Existence of transitional societies going through transition from the old bipolar world system to a new tumultuous one;
  •  The effect of increased interdependence between time and place due to communications revolution, and the life of nation-states in glass houses on various layers of social life in central and peripheral countries involved in the existing crisis;
  •   The sliding nature of the environmental economy of regional countries within a visible body and invisible entity;
  •   Fluctuations in energy market and vacillating geopolitics of the energy market;
  •   The sliding nature of economy resulting from monocultural economic systems in central and peripheral countries involved in the crisis
  •  The effect of objective outcomes of the political transition period on various layers of social forces and political powers within various frameworks of socio-political developments;
  •  The support accorded by transregional powers to the main poles of the crisis in favor of one of the main poles involved in this crisis;
  •   Escalation of military tension;
  •   Severance of security cooperation, and
  •   Collapse of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council.

 

 

-       Analysis of strategies followed by actors and players

-       Configuration

o   Actors

  • Regional: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran
  •  Transregional: The US, Russia, the united Europe, China

o   Players

  •   Regional: Qatar, Persian Gulf littoral states, Iraq, Pakistan
  •   Transregional: Israel, Egypt, Jordan

-       Analysis of strategy

-       Actors

o   Regional

  •  Saudi Arabia: Follows a regional aggressive strategy and international cooperation with transregional powers.
  •   Turkey: Follows strategy of expansion of power plus regional interaction with transregional powers.
  •   Iran: Follows strategy of rivalry with regional powers and confrontation with transregional powers.

o   Transregional

  •  The US: Follows strategy of combined hegemony and new world order on the basis of security leadership of the future world in a unipolar-multipolar global system with the goal of containing China and securing geostrategic domination over Far East.
  •   Russia: Follows strategy of playing joker cards of poker as trump cards to get more possible concessions under the new world order.
  •  The united Europe: Follows strategy of unity with the United States with emphasis on rivalry over power division in the region and simultaneous cooperation for achieving higher political ground compared to China in order to maintain the West’s power against the East in the future.
  •  China: Follows strategy of active silence with the main goal of keeping Beijing away from political disputes and boosting the economic power of China in the region in parallel to expanding east-west corridor along the Silk Road.

-       Players

o   Regional

  •   Qatar: Follows strategy of playing a complicated game in a turbulent environment to obtain political prestige and get international concessions through economic investment as well as political and security measures.
  •   Persian Gulf littoral states: Follow strategy of interaction with Saudi Arabia and cooperation with transregional countries at a time of power challenge between Saudi Arabia and Iran to protect their future existence.
  •   Iraq: Follows Strategy of two-way interaction with Saudi Arabia and Iran and keeping away from possible conflict both at Arab and transregional levels.
  •  Pakistan: Follows Strategy of active silence and security cooperation with Saudi Arabia

o   Transregional

  •  Israel: Follows Strategy of supporting Saudi Arabia and helping the crisis develop from confrontation with Qatar to confrontation with Iran.
  •  Egypt: Follows Strategy of cooperation with Saudi Arabia and confrontation with Qatar.
  • Jordan: Follows Strategy of inching along in silence and cooperation with the UK in the region.

-       Dynamism of signals within the range of possibilities and reduction of uncertainties

This dynamism aims to track information obtained through monitoring of surveyed news. Which trends are possible to continue or stop?

1.      Interaction among regional powers to create a new regional order exists in addition to the possibility of disturbance in the existing geopolitical order in the region.

2.      There is the possibility of transfer of crises from New Heartland – the Arab Middle East – to Heartland New, including the Iranian plateau and the land between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden. This is the intermediate stage of transfer of crisis to Upper Heartland in the future due to new geopolitical developments in the world’s future order.

3.      Regional confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia has been growing and increasing, which is in tune with incitement by Israel as well as regional and international policies of the Trump administration.

4.      Restricting international cooperation with Iran through a limited interpretation of Iran's nuclear deal with the world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and laying regional siege on Iran through regional management of Israel and support from Saudi Arabia.

5.      Controlled confrontation between the Arab front and the fragile alliance of Turkey, Iran and Qatar will relatively remain in place in medium term.

6.      Growing cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel will further increase, especially after imminent abdication of Saudi King Salman and enthronement of his son, Mohammad bin Salman.

7.      The process of forming the Arab NATO will take on more speed.

8.      Iran's effort to mobilize popular forces in the region to fight against terrorism will increase along with the presence of transregional countries that cooperate with jihadist and other political organizations in the region and, at the same time, will face serious new challenges.

9.      Strict measures will be taken in coming months to control the upward trend of oil prices and it is possible for some oil majors to sell their stocks on global markets.

10.  Domestic criticism of US presidential election and discussions about possible intervention of Russia in that election will exacerbate crisis in the foreign policy of the United States and will lead to more convergence between Democrats and Republicans for the revival of regional policies adopted by the former US President George W. Bush.

11.  More than being directed at global need to oil as a strategic commodity – taking into account that oil is no more a strategic commodity – the competition in the global energy market will be directed at controlling geostrategic code of the region in order to create a shield against further influence of China and cut off China’s east-west corridor.

12.  The process of democracy seeking will be energized in regional countries and in case of a war, shifts in national borders and possible change of governments are quite conceivable.

13.  The process of weakening Qatar will become more conservative and an effort will be made to manage any disarray in the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council.

14.  Enhanced military and security presence will continue in Heartland New along with imposition of further marine restrictions from Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Hormoz. Reverse engineering of the closing the Strait of Hormoz will be put on agenda.

 

-       Future scenarios for the Qatar crisis

Here, we will focus on developing scenarios through meaningful and definable image processing. These images include:

  •  Return of Ayyam al-Arab (or The Days of the Arabs)
  • West’s Trojan Horse
  •  Persian Gulf’s red herring
  •  The black swan
  •  Thucydides Trap

 

-       Return of the Days of the Arabs

o   Analysis of trends

The following trends must be taken into account with regard to this scenario:

1.      Escalation of ideological friction between the two poles of the crisis;

2.      Development of regional rivalry into conflicts over power in the region;

3.      Development of economic rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the region;

4.      Incitement of regional rivalry for powerful and rapid spread of crises from New Heartland to Heartland New by transregional powers; and

5.      Changing regional interaction into power struggle to form the future regional order. This struggle will take place between two united and allied fronts with the united front comprising Saudi Arabia and its allies as opposed to the allied front, which consists of Qatar, Turkey and Iran.

 

o   Summary of the story

Ayyam al-Arab (or The Days of the Arabs) is a title used to describe major developments, which took place in the Arabian Peninsula before the advent of Islam. These developments usually included wars and conflicts, which were result of natural, economic and social conditions in the region and most of them meant to maintain survival of Arab tribes. The root causes of these wars could be traced back to natural and economic conditions as well as social conditions of pre-Islamic Arabs and their conflicts. Arab wars in the time known as The Days of the Arabs had a common characteristic, which was inspiring the tribe with the spirit of pride and vengeance.

The current crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar can lead to a devastating military confrontation and war between the two countries if the current political, economic and ideological trends intensify on the background of this reactionary viewpoint. Due to the confrontational attitude of allies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, on the one hand, and incitements by transregional powers to establish their presence in this region, on the other hand, the potential for war is quite high.

 

-       West’s Trojan Horse

o   Analysis of trends

1.      Regional confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia is characterized by a progressing trend, which is in line with the incitement made by Israel and also with the United States’ regional and international policies under the Trump administration.

2.      There is a high possibility for intensification of crises from New Heartland – the Arab Middle East – to Heartland New – including the Iranian plateau between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden. This intermediate stage in the spread of crisis to the Upper Heartland is in line with new geopolitical configuration of the future world order.

3.      Interaction among regional powers serves to create a new regional order, while the possibility of disruption in the existing regional geopolitics is extant.

4.      Regional confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia follows an incremental and progressive trend, which is in line with the incitement made by Israel and also with the United States’ regional and international policies under the Trump administration.

 

o   Story

For 10 years, the Greek army had laid siege to city of Troy without any result. They finally pretended that they were withdrawing and left behind only one big wooden horse in which a number of their heroes, including Odysseus, were hidden. Trojans considered that horse as a spoil of war and took it into the city after which they celebrated their victory. When night fell, all Greek heroes got out of the horse and conquered Troy after taking all Trojans by surprise.

In view of the serious friction that exists between Iran and the United States and due to transfer of its effect from international to regional level via proxy wars through which it gives rise to regional conflicts, and also due to the clear role that Saudi Arabia plays as the mad actor against Iran, the ongoing Qatar crisis seems to be very fluctuating.

On the other hand, for about three decades, US governments and their allies have failed in containing Iran in order to play their desired their regional roles and make their international impact. Therefore, in view of the possibility of cooperation between Iran and Turkey in defending Qatar and as a result of Qatar’s similar positions with Iran in defending such jihadist groups as Hamas, they are trying through magnifying the crisis in the Middle East to pave the way for amassing military equipment in the region, deploying military forces, developing arms rivalries and creating their own desired atmosphere in the region. In addition, they also seek suitable military coordination for the management of the Qatari crisis. Here, Iran is apparently not the focus of attention anymore, but in fact, the crisis of Qatar is a Trojan Horse, which has arrived in the Persian Gulf. Some revolutionary Iranians also consider it as an opportunity for the country.

 

-       The red herring of the Persian Gulf

o   Analysis of trends

1.      There is the possibility of interaction among regional powers to create the new regional order as a result of which disruption of the existing regional geopolitics is probable.

2.      Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel will increase, especially after the imminent abdication of King Salman and his substitution with Mohammad bin Salman.

3.      Regional confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia is on the rise and its further escalation will depend on the incitement from Israel as well as regional and international policies adopted by the Trump administration.

4.      More than being directed at global need to oil as a strategic commodity – taking into account that oil is no more a strategic commodity – the rivalry in the global energy market will be directed at controlling geostrategic code of the region in order to create a protective shield against further influence of China and cut off China’s east-west corridor.

 

-       Story

The red herring is a fallacious argument, whose effect depends on distraction of attention. In this fallacy, the attention is distracted and readers or listeners will be directed toward certain aspects of the discussion, which are far from the main aspect on which attention must be focused. They are asked to pay attention to some observations or some claims, which may be related to the subject of the discussion, but correctly or incorrectly are not related to its main topic. This is the same red herring, to which attention is diverted.

Intentional diversion of attention is known in many fields as the “red herring.” Especially in literature and more frequently in thrillers, there are characters or events, which are intentionally put on the way of a detective, as well as readers, in order to increase the excitement and suspense of the story as much as possible. This event can be a covert political motivation, a sexual scandal and also anything, which can divert attention of the reader as a “red herring.” In the very popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, a catholic bishop, who is a fictional character, is introduced into the plot in a very cunning method. His name, which is also a satire by the author, is Aringarosa, which is the Italian equivalent for the “red herring.”

 

-       Black swan scenario

o   Analysis of trends

1.      Iran’s effort for mobilization of popular forces in the region to fight terrorism will increase along with the presence of transregional countries through the cooperation of jihadist and political organizations that are active in the region and, at the same time, will face very serious challenges.

2.      More than being directed at global need to oil as a strategic commodity – taking into account that oil is no more a strategic commodity – the rivalry in the global energy market will be directed at controlling geostrategic code of the region in order to create a protective shield against further influence of China and cut off China’s east-west corridor.

3.      Democracy seeking trend will be invigorated in regional countries and in case of war, shifts in national borders and change of regional governments will be possible.

4.      Domestic criticism of U.S. presidential election and the possibility of interference by Russians in that election will come under more control as crisis surrounding America’s foreign policy will intensify and Democrats become more convergent with Republicans for the implementation of Bush’s regional policies.

 

o   Story

Black swan is an allegory and denotes those events, which are considered as very surprising and extremely rare, because nobody usually expects them to happen and when they do take place, people try to justify them by resorting to irrational and sometimes superstitious arguments. Regardless of how ordinary people think, there are usually differences of opinion among intellectuals with regard to reasons and consequences of such phenomena, which may not be resolved even after decades and centuries of disputes.

This name comes from the Western culture in which the white swan was the symbol of innocence and purity, while black swan was considered as symbol of devil, evil and sorcery, because people had not seen such a bird before. This age-old myth has such deep roots in the Western people’s beliefs that it has inspired musicians as well as literary and religious figures, an example of which is the Swan Lake ballet composed by famous Russian musician, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In this ballet, which was first performed at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater in 1877, the black swan is a sorcerer, which tries to deceive Prince Siegfried.

In this case, the crisis of Qatar revolves around controlling democratic changes in favor of Islamist groups, which are supported by Qatar and Tehran. In this case, an effort is made to introduce such groups as black swan by first identifying those jihadist groups, which are being supported by Qatar, and in parallel, by emphasizing the cooperation between Iran and Qatar in this regard and highlighting Iran’s support for the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movements. Continuation of this process will finally lead to an institutionalized fear of change and helps combine Islamophobia with Iranophobia in the same way that has been depicted in the black swan allegory.

 

-       Thucydides Trap scenario

o   Analysis of trends

1.      There is the possibility of interaction among regional powers to create the new regional order as a result of which disruption of the existing regional geopolitics is probable.

2.      The process of forming the Arab NATO has taken on more speed.

3.      Regional confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia is on the rise and its further escalation will depend on the incitement from Israel as well as regional and international policies adopted by the Trump administration.

4.      Enhanced military and security presence will continue in Heartland New along with imposition of further marine restrictions from Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Hormoz. Reverse engineering of closing the Strait of Hormoz will be put on agenda.

 

-       Story

The Greek historian, who chronicled the war between Athens and Sparta, believed that when an emerging power challenges an existing power and they get engaged in saber-rattling, traps, big troubles and unexpected incidents could be expected. In this way, Thucydides Trap is an allegory about the threat(s) posed by an emerging power to its existing rivals. During the fifth century B.C., as tensions escalated between a rising Athens and a Sparta, which aimed to maintain its prominent role in the world, they had no choice, but to fight each other. Another example is Germany one century ago, when it went to war with Britain. At the beginning of the 20th century, Britain had the world’s biggest navy.

Wilhelm II, the last German emperor and the King of Prussia, developed Germany’s navy to compete with the British navy. In reaction, King Edward VII ordered the British navy to counteract Germany’s measure. The result was a war and as such, the two countries fell into Thucydides Trap. At that time, a war between Wilhelm II and Edward VII was not conceivable.

Graham Allison, a professor of political science at Harvard University, has explained in his new book, Destined for War, how China’s wealth and power is on the rise and this process can intensify rivalries and lead to war among superpowers. He has warned in his book that countries must avoid Thucydides Trap in order to prevent a war.

In his book, Allison has discussed the issue of Thucydides Trap, noting that the United States is a country that relies on its global position and tries to maintain it. In his opinion, the model of structural pressure is used when the rising power of one government is challenged by another, and this is the model that has been used by China in the face of the United States. The world had never before seen such a rapid geographical change of a superior power. Emergence of such a power as China disturbs the global balance of division of power. The economic development of China turns this country into a powerful and influential political and military rival for the United States. In Thucydides Trap, according to Allison, China is considered as a serious political adversary for the United States and unlike some other people, he believes that the finish line in relations between China and the United States is war and this war will take place in next decades.

The crisis of Qatar is a step toward inevitable war between the established powers in the region and the emerging power of Iran as part of an overarching international conflict. This viewpoint has been trying through the theory of “asymmetrical warfare” and by means of media operations that have been going on in the past three decades to introduce Iran as a regional and international threat. As a result, its proponents have been pursuing Iranophobia at regional level and Islamophobia, which is also centered on Iran, at international level. Positions taken by comprador analysts as well as political and military radicals on Iran, which try to magnify Iran's power and vulnerability of Tehran’s regional and international adversaries to its threat, further help promote this approach.

In this scenario, confrontation between Saudi Arabia and its allies, on the one hand, and Iran, on the other, is shown to be inevitable. Therefore, this crisis is aimed at making Iran establish a regional front in support of Qatar and its final goal is to pit Iran against the aforesaid pro-Saudi front. However, the main objective of this Thucydides Trap is to make this front empty of those countries that have already joined the Saudi-led alliance.

 

*Photo Credit: CNN

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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