The Gulf Widens

The Roots of the Regional Spat With Qatar

An aerial view of Doha, Qatar, March 2013. Fadi Al-Assaad / REUTERS

Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump embarked on his first foreign trip, which began in Riyadh. There, the administration and Saudi officials sent a clear message: Iran is a destabilizing force in the region, which “nations of conscience” must counter. Parts of the trip were heavily criticized in the region and beyond, with some observers even insinuating that the trip sparked a split among the Gulf Arabs. Trump can’t be blamed for that split—the Gulf Arabs are no monolith, and disagreements have been rife—but he did embolden hard-line factions in the Gulf.

As the Yemeni conflict dragged on, disagreements within the GCC intensified.

How to deal with Iran has always been the subject of debate within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Although all of the countries in the group aim to stand up to their powerful neighbor, each differs on how. The nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran brought these divisions to the forefront. Under Saudi Arabia’s leadership, Bahrain and most of the UAE were skeptical of the deal, highlighting their concerns about Iran’s regional meddling. Others, including Oman and the Emirate of Dubai hoped to capitalize on the deal and forge new trade partnerships. Kuwait and Qatar found themselves in the middle. They were eager to contain Iran, but also to lessen tensions. After all, they share interests with Iran, including gas fields and trade.

The Yemen conflict complicated matters further. Riyadh led a bombing campaign in Yemen to check perceived Iranian influence over the Houthi rebels. Riyadh was convinced of Iran’s hand in the conflict. But others were less certain. This is because Iran’s role in the conflict isn’t clear-cut, and its support for the rebels is overstated. Oman, for example, refused to join the Saudi-led coalition. Those who joined in the coalition with Saudi Arabia—the rest of GCC—viewed the United States under U.S. President Barack Obama as increasingly pivoting away from the Persian Gulf, and

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