Gulf Crisis: Is Qatar Really the “Region’s Israel?”
Unlike Qatar, Israel is not really in the business of fostering opposition or regime change in the region. Israel largely feels that autocratic rulers are more reliable partners.
- Alan Dershowitz argued that Qatar, like Israel, was “surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands, and struggling for its survival.”
- The differences between Qatar and Israel are multiple. Most importantly, Qatar does not occupy foreign territory.
- Unlike Qatar, Israel is not in the business of fostering opposition or regime change in the region. It largely feels that autocratic rulers are more reliable partners.
- Protagonists in the Gulf crisis ensure that some degree of crucial business can be conducted, albeit often surreptitiously. Common or crucial national interests are not jeopardized.
Prominent U.S. constitutional lawyer and scholar Alan M. Dershowitz raised eyebrows recently when he described Qatar as “the Israel of the Gulf states.”
Known for his hard-line pro-Israel views, Mr. Dershowitz drew his conclusion following an all-expenses paid trip to the Gulf state. Mr. Dershowitz argued that Qatar, like Israel, was “surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands, and struggling for its survival.”
The sports issue
He also noted that while he was in Qatar, an Israeli tennis player had been granted entry to compete in an international tournament in which the Israeli flag was allowed to fly alongside of those of other participants.
In response, Saudi Arabia took Qatar to task for accommodating the tennis player and almost at the same time refused Israelis visas to take part in an international chess tournament.
“This episode made clear to me that the Saudis were not necessarily the good guys in their dispute with Qatar. The Saudis have led a campaign to blockade, boycott and isolate their tiny neighboring state. They have gotten other states to join them in this illegal activity,” Mr. Dershowitz said.
His remarks were likely to have surprised Arabs and Jews as well as pro-Israeli circles. Israel, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, sees Qatar as a state that supports militant entities.
These include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip, and Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated a terrorist organization by Qatar’s detractors.
Mr. Dershowitz’s similarities notwithstanding, the differences between Qatar and Israel are multiple. Most importantly, Qatar does not occupy foreign territory, nor does it deny the rights of others or employ its military to achieve geopolitical objectives.
It is Qatar’s soft power approach and idiosyncratic policies that provoked the ire of its Gulf brethren and accusations that it supports violent and non-violent militants.
Nonetheless, the trappings of the eight-month-old Gulf crisis, sparked by the imposition last June of a UAE-Saudi-led diplomatic and economic boycott, would seemingly to some degree bear out Mr. Dershowitz’s view.
The map issue
Much like Arab maps of the Middle East that for the longest period of time, and often still do, failed to identify Israel, a map of the southern Gulf in the children’s section of Abu Dhabi’s recently inaugurated flagship Louvre Museum omits Qatar.
The map would seemingly turn the Gulf dispute into an existential one in which the perceived basic principle of recognition, existence and right to chart out one’s own course is at stake.
Yet, protagonists in the Gulf crisis, much like those on the pro-Palestinians side of the Arab-Israeli divide, ensure that some degree of crucial business can be conducted, albeit often surreptitiously. In that process, common or crucial national interests are not jeopardized.
Money exchangers in the UAE still buy and sell Qatari riyals. Natural gas continues to flow. Neither Qatar nor the UAE have tinkered with the sale of Qatari gas that is supplied through a partially Abu Dhabi-owned pipeline that accounts for up to 40% of Dubai’s needs.
The aviation issue
A similar picture emerges with aviation. Like Israel, which does not bar Arab nationals entry, Qatar has not closed its airspace to Bahraini, Emirati and Saudi aircraft even though the three states force it to bypass their airspace by overflying Iran.
This has nevertheless not stopped aviation from becoming the latest flashpoint in the Gulf, signaling that the region’s new normal is fragile at best.
Tension rose this month when Qatar twice charged that military aircraft had violated its airspace. Qatar used the alleged violations to file a complaint with the international aviation authority. The UAE, beyond denying the allegations, asserted that Qatari fighters had twice intercepted an Emirati airliner as it was landing in Bahrain.
The regime change issue
In what may be a significant difference, Israel, unlike Qatar, is not really in the business of fostering opposition, if not regime change, in the region. Israel largely feels that autocratic rulers are more reliable partners and less susceptible to the whims of public opinion.
By contrast, regime change figures prominently in the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s toolkit, at least in the public diplomacy part of it, albeit with mixed results.
Emirati and Saudi efforts to foster opposition from within the ruling family to Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani appeared to have backfired.
Mr. Dershowitz no doubt did Qatar a favor by visiting the country and by coming out in its defense. Comparing Qatar to Israel, however, may not go down well with significant segments of Arab and Qatari public opinion as well as pro-Israel groups. In doing so, he may have dampened the impact of his comments.