Yemen joins Saudi-led diplomatic standoff against Qatar

Qatar is cut off from other Gulf Arab states
(Image credit: iStock)

On Monday, Yemen's internationally recognized government joined a diplomatic and economic freeze of Qatar led by Saudi Arabia and including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. All four nations said they would cut sea and air ties with Qatar, and Saudi Arabia vowed to cut off Qatar's land border to the Arabian peninsula; Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave, and Saudi Arabia said Qatar's forces will be pulled from the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Qatar's Foreign Affairs Ministry protested that there was "no legitimate justification" for the actions by its fellow Sunni Arab states, vowing that the citizens of the extremely wealthy oil and gas producing country won't be affected by the "violation of its sovereignty."

In an economic blow, UAE airlines Emirates, Etihad, and FlyDubai all announced they will cease flying to Doha, Qatar's capital, and it's unclear if Qatar Airways, a major long-haul carrier, will be able to continue flying through Saudi airspace. The U.S. has a major military base, the al-Udeid Air Base, in Qatar, hosting 10,000 U.S. troops and the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command. Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The Navy, Pentagon, and CENTOM all declined to say if or how U.S. operations will be affected by the conflict. All the countries involved are U.S. allies.

There have been tensions between Qatar and the other Gulf Arab states since at least the 1990s, when Qatar launched Al Jazeera, providing a platform for Arab dissidents to speak out against other autocratic rulers. It intensified during the Arab Spring, when Qatar supported anti-government movements, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The current split centers on Iran, and Qatar's refusal to join a Saudi-led push for a united front positioning Tehran as enemy No. 1 during President Trump's recent visit.

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Three days after Trump left, the state-run Qatar News Agency quoted Qatari ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as criticizing the mounting anti-Iran statement, then quickly erased the comment and blamed hackers for purportedly making up a false quote. Al Thani more openly called Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to congratulate him on his re-election in late May, irritating the Saudis. Saudi Arabia accused Qatar on Monday of supporting "terrorist groups aiming to destabilize the region," including the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State, and al Qaeda, and "Iranian-backed terrorist groups."

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