The military option in the Qatar crisis
Convincing the Americans to accept an Arab military presence in the Gulf would not be impossible.
2017/08/06 Issue: 118 Page: 2
The Arab Weekly
Ahmed Abou Douh
Qatar is doing its best to push the boycotting countries to choose options that had previously remained out of the question. Talk of building a military base on Bahrain’s Hawar Islands is a forceful threat while a range of diplomatic solutions are still available to the boycotting countries.
Then again, bringing up this option could serve as a wake-up call to Qatar to bring it back to its senses.
For Qatar, the main problem with the military base would be the identity of those who control it. The thought that Egypt might be the major partner in the construction of the Hawar military base would give Qatar unbearable nightmares. Why?
If the Qatari regime dared to threaten Egypt’s stability, it would be because it thought it was protected due to the geographical distance, the security umbrella of the Gulf countries and the American base in Al Udeid. So, bringing Egyptian military might close to Qatar would be a scary option for Qatar.
There is a compelling reason as to why the possibility of an Egyptian military presence in the Gulf is concerning to the Qataris. When the crisis broke out, Qatar ran to Turkey for protection.
Turkey, however, is not a Gulf country. So, Qatar had militarised the crisis and allowed a non-Gulf Islamic force to have a military presence in a strategically important region.
While Egypt is also not a Gulf state, it enjoys a level of legitimacy by being an Arab country, unlike Turkey. For the Gulf people, Egypt is like an older brother with an imposing presence from the point of view of history, cultural heritage and military might.
For the Egyptians, a military presence near Qatar would be a dream come true. Many Egyptians say the time has come to teach Qatar a lesson.
Egypt could have meted out some punishment on Qatar if it were not for two reasons: The strategic importance of its relations with the Gulf countries and the lack of any Egyptian naval presence in the Gulf. With the crisis with Qatar, both impediments are gone. Now Egypt’s political influence can reach beyond the Red Sea and this political influence would have to be backed up militarily.
Historically, Egyptian expansion in the Gulf region has not been welcomed, especially by Saudi Arabia. During the time of Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Egyptian presence in the Arabian Peninsula delayed the creation of a Saudi state but it would go on to compete with Egypt for leadership of the Arab region and, during the 1960s, Saudi Arabia fought Egypt’s presence in the Yemeni war tooth and nail.
Today, however, things are different. Saudi Arabia is militarily capable of defending its own internal stability and Egypt is no longer a threat to its influence in the Arabian Peninsula. On the contrary, each country sees the other as a vital ally.
Today, an Egyptian military presence in the Gulf would no longer be seen as a threat but rather as a reassuring security factor. Perhaps an Egyptian military presence nearby might push Qatar to reconsider its role in the region. Al Jazeera would change its tune and halt its non-stop media campaign against the boycotting countries. Even the Qatari Foreign Affairs Ministry would revise its discourse. The Qataris would have to think twice before donating one cent to terrorist organisations.
What about Turkey’s military presence in Qatar? Frankly, I don’t think the Turkish brigade in Qatar would amount to any advantage in the show of muscle flexing we’re talking about. If Turkey can send 3,000 soldiers, the boycotting countries would have no difficulty sending many times more troops. There would be no need to engage the Turkish forces.
The one real problem in the scenario outlined above would be the Americans. Washington is not very keen on having the Gulf region placed under the protection of an Arab military coalition. In the American mind, that task can only be devolved to the West. They seem to think they are the legitimate heirs of the British colonisation in the Gulf. The United States is not ready to share its hunting ground with the Arabs. The Americans want to share in the costs but not in the forces.
Still, convincing the Americans to accept an Arab military presence in the Gulf would not be impossible. All that must be done is convince them that their interests in the Gulf would be safe and that the Arab military force would be temporary. They must understand that punishing Qatar presents no risk to their interests.
An Arab military base on the Hawar Islands would take the boycotting countries from reaction to action. Qatar did not expect this scenario because the four boycotting countries are always talking about dialogue and nothing else. Dialogue, however, is not enough to bring Qatar to better sentiments.
The Qatari regime would start paying attention when it learns that “all options are open.” That’s what the Americans keep saying to Iran and that is the only way to deal with rogue states.