Two unprecedented events this week shook one of the wealthiest regions on earth to its core. The two ironically back to back crises now, more than ever, underscore the urgency for diplomacy and a global engagement suited to the 21st century. They also emphasize the need to end egotistic "140-word" foreign policy strategies, back-handed statements, and bullying of nations. If these escalate, an irreversible war will result.
This week Qatar — per capita, the world's wealthiest country — a nation comprised of only 300,000 nationals and home to the most strategic U.S. military base in the Mideast, was ousted from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The region’s two intimate compadres, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), decided to bolster their efforts to isolate Iran — this, only one week after "sword-dancing" with Mr. Trump. In doing so, Qatar became a strategic target to poke as part of their anti-Iran coalition. Currently, the kingdom fears its diminishing oil value and production, as well as its regional and global influence.
The show was primarily run by the 31-year-old Saudi Defense Minister, Mohammed Bin Salman, and the wealthy Abu Dhabi prince Mohammed Bin Zayed who also happens to be the commander of the UAE’s defense forces. The two have been incredibly vocal in their efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic of Iran and amplify the drumbeats of a face-off, as seen last month by the young prince.
In an interview in May — only weeks before the Iranian presidential election — Saudi’s Deputy Crown Prince said that "there’s no room for dialogue with Iran." Under the premise that the Iranian regime wants to "reach the focal point of Muslims (Mecca)," bin Salman also added that Saudis "will not wait until the fight is inside Saudi Arabia and we will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia."
In addition the Saudi Prince also accused Iran of having and exporting "extremist ideologies." While the Iranian regime prides itself as a powerful pillar of Shia Islam, it’s critical to note that ordinary Iranians are some of the most secular and nonreligious groups of people in the entire Mideast and in comparison to their Arab neighbors. The 80 million Iranians are also privy to some of the most basic and fundamental rights that the 30 million Saudis are deprived of in the Wahhabis kingdom.
After Qatar’s ouster by its Gulf neighbors, Turkey and Iran offered military and food support which only served to emphasize the polarization of the region as well as the underlying reason as to why Qatar's capital city, Doha, was and continues to be cornered.
In what’s becoming a new norm in diplomatic exchanges, however, UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Bin Mohammad Gargash, “tweeted” that "Qatar’s seeking protection from two non-Arab states 'Turkey and Iran' is tragic and comical."
Gargash harshly criticized Qatar for seeking protection from abroad.
The second event took place only days after Qatar’s isolation by the Saudis and their allies. For the first time, Iran faced two simultaneous terrorist attacks carried out by the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq — a fanatic group that justifies its radical ideologies of Islam in what’s closest to that of the Wahhabis practices that continues to wreck the Mideast, causing havoc globally.
ISIS managed to attack the Islamic Republic’s heartland at the "seat" of their newly-elected "moderate" government and the shrine of the Islamic Republic’s father — Imam Khomeini.
Ironically it happened hours after the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, who also previously served as the Kingdom’s Ambassador to the U.S., warned Iran that "Iran must be punished for its interference in the region and called Tehran the world’s leading supporter of terrorism."
While the hardliners and the Revolutionary Guards, who often engage in rogue activities and act as spoilers of the moderate voices in Iran, immediately jumped in to blame Saudi Arabia, the country’s newly elected president did not do so blatantly, inviting all to continue a "unified fight against global terrorism."
In all of this, the U.S. president managed to layout his foreign policy response through a series of tweets. First he took a victory lap by calling out on Qatar for their "support of extremism." This is a country he recently sat with to discuss the purchase of "lots of beautiful military equipment." He then took a call from the Saudi King with no resultant sign of a concrete resolution to the fiasco.
Subsequently, in response to the Tehran terrorist attacks, and unlike his previous reactions to the other ISIS attacks (especially those in Europe) he chose not to tweet. Instead the White House released a brief statement that somewhat reads like an "I told you so" note, rather than a message offering condolences and sympathy.
This time though, Iran’s foreign minister took his message to twitter and in his limited word count called Mr. Trump’s note a "repugnant White House statement and Senate sanctions as Iranians counter terror backed by U.S. clients. Iranian people reject such U.S. claims of friendship."
It is not a secret that many on both sides of the Atlantic were and continue to be looking for a more bombastic and retaliatory reaction from their Iranian counterparts. Yet, there is nothing more dangerous than escalating this continuous poking between the anti-Iran coalition and Iran.
If Iran reacts in a retaliatory fashion they pose the danger of justifying the Saudi’s belief that their Shia rivals are interested in a more robust confrontation.
Regardless of who is right or wrong, or which side of a political or financial spectrum one is, at a time of global fiscal and diplomatic austerity the world cannot afford an escalation in a region already torn-apart by war, sectarian divides — and terrorism. With the rise of populism, fractious relations between world powers, and daily fear of extremism, world leaders need to rely on engagement and dialogue rather than 140-word exchanges.
Such debate now more than ever brews tensions that, if blown up, may escalate uncontrollably and undoubtedly become destructive to all parties, stake-holders, and propagators involved.
Tara Kangarlou is an award-winning journalist who has has written, reported, and produced for CNN, CNN International, NBC Los Angeles, Al Jazeera America, Huffington Post, and Al Monitor. In 2016, she founded Art of Hope a non-profit 501(c)3 organization helping Syrian refugees overcome trauma, PTSD, and psychological wounds. She is currently working on her upcoming book on Iran. To read more of her reports, Click Here Now.
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