Two years past today, the tottering structure referred to as the Gulf Cooperation Council folded in a heap when three of its members—Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain—announced an embargo on a fourth, Qatar. The troika, joined by Egypt, claimed to be backbreaking the rulers in Doha for an array of sins, as well as their relationships with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Their calculation: An embargo would shake Qatar’s economy and weaken its ruling Al Thani family, forcing them, among different things, to fall in line with the Saudi-led Arab phalanx against Iran.
The embargo has prominently unsuccessful. Powered by some of the world’s largest reserves of gas, the Qatari economy quickly shook off the straitjacket, even earning a word of praise from Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
By holding out against external pressure, the Al Thani’s have grown, if anything, stronger: Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani enjoys the status of a resistance hero, complete with a Che-like iconic image—dubbed “Tamim the Glorious”—that is plastered all over Doha.
Not only has Qatar deepened its relations with Iran, which shipped emergency food supplies to Doha, however it’s also done so without compromising ties with the U.S.—which maintains the vast Central Command forward HQ in the Al Udeid airbase. What’s more, Qatar has fully grown closer to another Saudi bete noire: Turkey, which also has a military base south of Doha.
If Qatar looks to have moved on from the breakdown in relations with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, the troika seems comfortable with departure their neighbor outside the tent. Each side has made it clear that a come back to the pre-embargo status quo isn’t necessary, or even desirable.
This is tricky for Kuwait and Oman, the two other GCC members, that have preserved ties with Qatar, despite the troika’s displeasure. But here, too, a modus vivendi looks to have been reached: there’s no pressure on the Kuwaiti’s and Omani’s to drop their neutrality and be a part of one of the two camps.
The only country seriously inconvenienced by the GCC split is the U.S. Indeed, the White House would like to see the GCC countries, along with Egypt and Jordan, form an “Arab NATO” to man the watchtowers against Iran’s Islamic Republic.
But if that’s currently out of the question, the U.S; could yet build a virtue of the rupture within the Arabian Peninsula. If President Trump is genuinely interested in talking to the Iranians, with or without the preconditions enumerated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then he’s better off having the Qataris (as well as the Omanis and Kuwaitis) standing apart. Given Iran’s distrust of yank intentions—stoked even more by Trump’s own constantly changing rhetoric—Washington could benefit from having several backchannels to Teheran.
For the Qataris, taking part in the go-between would underscore their indispensability. This is why Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, visited Teheran last month when Iran declared it was resuming the enrichment of uranium.
But there’s competition for the role of peace broker. Oman, which served that purpose during the Obama years, is an obvious contender. Iraq has offered itself as an intermediary, too.
Somewhat out of the left field is Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is soon to visit Teheran. In the end, though, Qatar might not care who finally ends up playing the peacemaker: it advantages from any effort to prevent war in its neighborhood.