The propensity of being drawn into the whirlpool of crisis has been overriding in the Middle East since long. The latest spate of severing diplomatic ties with Qatar by major Arab neighbouring powers— and their allies— and the subsequent termination of cooperation in airline and banking sectors may ostensibly look a knee jerk reaction, given the announcement of the decision in an abrupt manner. In fact, after war in Iraq, civil war in Syria and ascendency of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Gulf states have nervously been treading the crisscrossed path of divergent conflicting political agenda, stoking up the cauldron of mutual jealousies, anger and political rivalries. The present crisis is the result of this deep down mistrust and distrust in which royal princes are competing for geostrategic influence to ensure their political longevity, turning the region into a virtual chessboard. Qatar’s ambitious plans to export natural gas across the region are being viewed warily in the region owing to its geostrategic implications which worries Saudi Arabia.
What worries Saudis?
The resentment began fomenting a rift when Qatar sought exportation of its natural gas— first found in 1971—proposing a pipeline to be laid as far as Europe, passing through most of the Gulf states, Iran and connecting it further to Turkey and then Europe onward. Being located at the center of the Persian Gulf, Qatar owns the world’s third largest natural gas reserves—after Russia and Iran—which accounts for approximately 15% of the world’s natural gas, mostly coming from the North Field—an enormous sea field located at the sea border between Iran and Qatar—of which around 62% of the reserves are owned by Qatar and the rest by Iran, the putative enemy country of Saudi Arabia. Qatar had kept a moratorium on gas production for a considerable period in the past, making oil of the fossil fuels its first priority, relegating gas to the second to be consumed after the oil reserves come to an end.
Now, when there is no moratorium any more by Qatar on gas production as its closure of oil reserves are drawing nearer, an intensive drive for market exploration has been its priority. So far, Qatar gas supply has made it to reach UAE, Oman and some other Gulf countries through Dolphin Pipelines, and for greater magnitude of gas trade it still has to fall back upon the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) techniques, an unsafe and costlier business alternative.
Qatar has been imploring the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since long for cooperation or collaboration in laying the proposed pipeline from Gulf region to Europe. The proposed Qatar–EU Pipeline, which envisages the route starting from Qatar, passing through Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait waters and Iraq waters, Iran and finally entering Turkey to connect it further to the EU states. The EU looks towards Qatar’s gas sanguinely as this would help reduce the former’s heavy dependence on Russia and disqualify the use of gas supply leverage by Russia for political reasons. Qatar pursued and has been pursuing the Gulf Council tirelessly in this regard. Qatar believes the Gulf Cooperation Council, if earnestly concerts the pipeline, can help a great deal in removing the irritant like Behrain-Qatar dispute over Hawar Islands, influence secure the Iraqi waters—in case Syrian route is not approved of given the civil war in the country. Qatar argues that if its engagement with Iran, GCC influence on immediate neighbours and pipelines’ sea route are viewed collectively as a compact unit, the project becomes viable despite unrest in the region. But Qatar’s implorations fell on the deaf ears each time.
Saudi Arabia, wishing to be the undisputed leader of the Arab world does not like Qatar to be an energy giant. Other GCC countries, more or less satellite states of Saudi Arabia do not support the project, lest it might harm their relations with the paramount power. The conclusion Qatar has drawn from this is that it has to explore other channels as its dogged tenacity for GCC cooperation yielding no results.
The Qatar’s alternative approach
The Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), initially considered and developed as a method of gas transportation to extremely remote places like the US, Japan and Korea, is not as cost efficient, secure and durable method as a pipeline project could be. Qatar is still pursing this possibility of project adamantly and has started acting its own—independently—instead through GCC. Qatar, over the years, has improved its relation with Iran and been inclined to influence course of events in the Middle East through its global media outreach of Aljazeera on the one hand and establishing liaison with different power actors operating in the region like Muslim Brotherhood and certain Sunni militia outfits, on the other. Qatar no longer seems inclined to toe the anti-Turkish GCC line in the context of Da’esh versus Bashar al-Asad. This is discordant approach in the eyes of the Gulf powers and the tiny Gulf state needs to be punished to bring to heel for making an attempt to cross the Rubicon—the commandments of the Saudi Crown.
The author teaches Philosophy in Pakistan and contributes to various English newspapers, apart from being a part-time green farmer. He can be accessed via email@example.com and @ariftaj