Will Saudi-UAE Relations Improve With Qatar Following the Gulf Cup?

In this picture provided by the office of the Saudi Press Agency, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, right, welcomes Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani upon his arrival to Riyadh Airbase before the opening of Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Last month Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates participated in the Gulf Cup in Qatar, a significant moment considering that it was the first-time when members of these nations entered the country following a cut in diplomatic ties in June 2017. Both nations accuse Doha of being complicit with regional terrorist activities and maintaining close ties with Iran.  

This diplomatic position principally intended to restore the hegemony of the Saudi-UAE axis over the Arabian Gulf. By imposing economic sanctions and a diplomatic embargo against Qatar, Riyad and Abu Dhabi are working to reduce the capacity of the Qatari authorities projecting their influence in the region. However, it should be highlighted that this regional crisis has only enabled Qatar to enhance its relations with Turkey and Iran. It is apparent that the value of the trading relationship between Tehran and Doha was estimated to be valued at $250 million in 2017. Additionally, the value of the trading relationship between Doha and Ankara was estimated to be $2,4 billion in 2018.

Rising regional geopolitical tensions

Following the targeted killing of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad by a U.S. drone Saudi Arabia has sought to call for a de-escalation in tensions. It is important for Saudi Arabia that existing tensions between the U.S. and Iran do not escalate further to a full-scale conflict because this will impede the ability of the current Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) to encourage investors to purchase the shares of the Saudi state-owned oil company Aramco. Indeed, MBS seeks to use revenue gained from the current 5% stock market listing of the world’s largest petroleum company for his diversification plans. Following the attack, the market share value of Aramco fell by more than 2%. Indeed, investors are worried that Iran, which counts Saudi Arabia among its regional foes, could target Aramco’s production facilities or its computer network if tensions further escalate. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have threatened the U.S. that they will pursue further attacks against Washington’s allies and interests if President Trump retaliates over the ballistic missile attacks conducted by the Iranian authorities over two American military bases in Iraq – pursued in retaliation over the death of Soleimani. In this sense, it is therefore important that the Saudi monarchy engages in improving the geopolitical stability of the Arabian Gulf by reiterating to the American authorities the importance of calming tension with Iran while also working to appease tensions with Qatar in order to restore investor confidence in Saudi Arabia and the region. 

Qatar’s relations with Turkey risks affecting a potential rapprochement with the UAE-Riyad axis

Willingness to appease tensions with Doha could be affected by Qatar’s strong ties with President Erdogan. Other than close economic ties, Turkey has a military base in Qatar where 5000 soldiers are stationed. The Ankara-Doha and Riyad-Abu Dhabi axes also have differing geopolitical interests. Indeed, a scrap for regional hegemony is taking place between both alliances in the Middle East. In the Red Sea, Qatar acts in close support of President Erdogan’s geostrategic manoeuvres, notably in Sudan, where the Qatari authorities signed with the former Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir a $4 million investment for the development and usage of the port of Suakin. For the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the south of the Red Sea is a crucial region in countering arms trafficking of Iran for Houthi rebel usage and to securitise Saudi and UAE oil exports to the West. To achieve this endeavour, both countries have sought to acquire military bases in countries of the Red Sea. Moreover, in Libya, Qatar and Turkey have sought to support islamist militias in combating the troops of Marshal Haftar, who is supported by the authorities of Riyad and Abu Dhabi.

The neorealist theory of international relations provides a comprehensive explanation into the behaviour of both alliances’ actions in the Middle East. Neorealists contend that states in the international system will do all in their capacity to prevent the rise in dominance of another in the international system. Thus, Turkey and Qatar invested in Sudan and Somalia which can be interpreted as an intention to counter Saudi-Emirati influence in the Red Sea. This implies also in Libya, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE are striving to counter Qatari-Turkish influence in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is thus clear that strategic differences between Qatar and Saudi Arabia-UAE axis could hinder a possible rapprochement.

Image: Saudi Press Agency

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.