Related Quarterly Updates

Israeli-Arab Relations

With regard to the Gulf, Israeli officials reported at the end of January that initial, low-level contacts had been made with Saudi Arabia on possibilities for cooperation. Earlier, on 11/22, Israeli Dep. FM Yossi Beilin had met with Saudi (as well as other Arab) diplomats and businessmen at conference in Aspen, CO, regarding joint business ventures in light of peace process.

In a first visit by an Israeli leader to the Gulf (Israeli delegations had visited Qatar and Bahrain for multilateral meetings in 5/94 and 10/94 respectively), PM Rabin met with Sultan Qabus in Muscat 12/ 26-27 to discuss bilateral issues and possible agricultural assistance (irrigation and desalination) to Oman. In January, an Israeli Energy Ministry delegation traveled to Oman for talks on natural gas, and at a meeting in Aqaba in early February, FM Peres, Deputy FM Beilin, and the Omani FM agreed to open interests sections.

Israel's relations with Egypt during the quarter were said by both sides to have reached a low over the NPT and following the "Alexandria Summit" of Presidents Mubarak and al-Asad and King Fahd organized by Egypt on 12/29. Nonetheless, following Egyptian protests over the falling exports to Israel (from a high of $235 m. annually to $55 m. annually since 1992), Israel on 1/16 gave Egypt most favored nation status, removing it from list of countriesubject to licensing and high customs fees (100-200%).

Concerning the Maghreb, Israeli television reported on 1/7 that Morocco would be establishing an office in Tel Aviv in February. Jerusalem's Qol Yisra'el announced on 2/7 that Israel and Tunisia would be opening interests sections (through the Belgian embassies) in each other's countries in mid-February. Meanwhile, aTunisian tourism delegation denied reports that it had visited Israel in late January, stating that their visit had been confined to the Jericho area.

Regional meetings attended by Israel included:

  • A "mini-summit" ofthe foreign ministers of Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, and Tunisia held 12/5 at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where the sides agreed to form a regional security organization that would meet bi-annually in Vienna at the foreign minister level.
  • A meeting in Aqaba on 12/12 of representatives from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the PA to discuss linking electricity grids. The same day, at the end of a two-day conference in Jerusalem on the environment organized by Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information, representatives from the same countries announced the establishment of joint Eco-Peace Task Force to monitor effects of increased development on the environment. 
  • The first tripartite meeting on regional security between Egypt, Jordan, and Israel on 1/4 in Elat, Israel, to discuss prevention of cross-border infiltrations.
  • The 2/2 Cairo "summit" of Pres. Mubarak, PM Rabin, King Hussein, and Chmn. Arafat, which marked no progress and was seen largely as a "corrective" to the Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian summit in Alexandria that had raised fears of an emerging anti-Israeli front.
  • A 2/8 economic conference at the ministerial level in Taba, Egypt, including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the PA, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown (see under "Regional Economic" below).

By the end of the quarter, there were signs of a slow-down in the trend towards Israel's integration into the region. Resistance from the Gulf countries to the establishment of a regional development bank including Israel gathered momentum (see under "Regional Economic" below). On 2/ 11, the foreign minister of Qatar, one of the first Gulf countries to hold open talks with Israel on economic and political cooperation (in London and the UN as of fall 1993), said his country would "not rush to establish ties with Israel" and denied that there were plans to open representational offices there. He also denied plans to export natural gas to Israel.

Inter-Arab Highlights

Jordanian-Palestinian relations improved over the quarter. Following tensions over Jordan's role with regard to "holy sites" in the Jordan-Israel treaty, meetings between the two sides paved the way for Arafat's meetings with King Hussein in Amman on 1/25. A general agreement and seven executive agreements on economic, cultural, and political cooperation were signed on 1/26 (see Docs A4-5).

Egypt played host to a number of meetings aimed at reconciliation and the resurrection of a united Arab front in advance of multilateral negotiations with Israel. Of note, Pres. Mubarak applied for observer status in the Arab Maghreb Union in November. On 1/24 he met with King Hussein in Aqaba for the first time in four years and agreed to renew relations frozen since the 1990 Gulf crisis.

Regional meetings included:

  • The seventh Islamic Conference Organization summit in Casablanca 12/13-14 attended by 11 Arab heads of state (26 Islamic heads of state) as well as prime ministers, foreign ministers, which passed resolutions on Jerusalem.
  • The Saudi-Egypt-Syrian summit in Alexandria 12/28-29 that endorsed Syria's position in talks with Israel and reiterated UN resolutions as the basis for peace in the Middle East, and encouraged a united Arab stand on negotiations (see Doc. A2).
  • The meeting of foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the UAE in Cairo 2/5-6 that issued a statement condemning Israel's refusal to sign the NPT and supporting Syria's demands in peace talks.
  • The 1/22 meeting in Cairo of representatives of Egypt, Jordan, and the PA to coordinate positions in preparation for the four-party (Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Palestine) committee on repatriation of displaced Palestinians. Earlier, in December, the Jordanians and Palestinians agreed on the definition of "displaced Palestinians."

Regional Economic

During the quarter, plans to establish a regional Middle East Development Bank, proposed soon after the September 1993 Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles and seen as key to efforts to integrate Israel into the region economically, were scaled down. Championed by the U.S. and Israel at the Casablanca economic summit in October 1994 and backed by a number of Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan, and the PA, the idea was resisted by the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia (which feared the financial burden) and the EU. To overcome opposition, at a meeting of representatives from 39 countries and financial institutions at the State Department on 1/11, a proposal was tabled or a smaller bank than had originally been planned (initial capital expected to be as little as $1.5 b., less than one third what supporters had sought) and a special committee was set up to study the project as well as an alternative idea of founding a regional economic cooperation council on the order of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. By early February, Gulf opposition, demonstrated in newspaper editorials and off-the-record statements by officials, had become forceful and overt. At a press conference during a visit to the UAE by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, the UAE minister of financial and industrial affairs declared that the "Arab world is not in need of an institution or a development bank in which Israel participates" and that "before talking or thinking of establishing a common Middle East market, some balance in security and economic interests between the Arabs and Israel must be established" (NYT, 2/17). 

U.S. Commerce Secretary Brown and executives from ten American corporations met in Taba on 2/8 with trade officials fr. Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the PA to discuss investment possibilities and setting up a regional council for trade. The parties agreed to work toward establishing regional free trade and to form two economic bodies to develop their economic ties. Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and the PA also discussed the Arab economic boycott and agreed to support efforts to end it. (Nabil Shaath of the PA signed the closing statement mentioning efforts to end the boycott, though he criticized it for not also calling for an end to Israel's closure of Gaza and the West Bank.)


The first meeting of the quadripartite (Israel, PA, Jordan, Egypt) committee on the repatriation of 1967 refugees ("displaced persons") established under Article XII of the Declaration of Principles was held in Amman on 3/7 (see Doc. B1 for the Jordanian-Palestinian definition of a "displaced person"). The meeting, originally scheduled for 2/26, was postponed on 2/21 by Israel, which apparently wanted additional time to consolidate its position in the face of previous coordination among Jordan, Egypt, and the PA on refugees last quarter (1/22, 2/4); a Foreign Ministry meeting to that end was held 3/2. The 3/7 meeting focused on the number of 1967 refugees eligible for repatriation. The PA gave a figure of 800,00 (1967 refugees and children); Israel suggested 220,000 (original refugees only). Israel refused a PA request to immediately allow 100 families to return as a confidence-building gesture, saying a slow, staged repatriation is needed to "prevent disruption and disorder."

The four parties agreed on the structure of the Continuing Committee, which will operate on two levels. The ministerial level will involve PA negotiator Nabil Shaath and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan, and Israel and will meet every two to three months. The first meeting was held in April. The technicalevel will involve delegations composed of three permanent members from each party that will meet every three weeks. The first meeting, scheduled for 4/7, was postponed until 6/7.

Israeli-Arab Relations

The slow-down in the trend toward Israel's integration into the region that began last quarter continued into the spring.

On 3/7, Tunisia asked Israel to delay opening its interests office in Tunis, indefinitely delayed sending its own technical team to set up an interests office in Tel Aviv, and canceled its participation in U.S.-Israeli naval exercises. On 2/16, Qatar denied plans to open representative offices in Israel or to export national gas there. Oman also put off exchanging interest offices with Israel. Israeli officials blamed Syrian pressure for the setbacks. On 3/20, however, Tunisia said it would allow a team of Israeli agricultural experts to visit Tunis as part of an Israeli government training program aimed at strengthening ties with Arab states; and in Cairo on 3/20, Israeli Dep. FM Beilin and his Omani counterpart agreed in principle that the Arab boycott should end and they should cooperate in trade, agriculture, and aviation but did not agree to establish diplomatic relations.

Israeli-Egyptian relations improved this quarter. Egypt eased its criticism of Israel and voted for the modified NPT extension. In addition, 25 Israeli companies participated in the Cairo trade fair 3/18 for the frst time since 1987, and an Israeli parliamentary delegation visited the Egyptian cabinet 3/19. In Paris on 4/6, Israel and Egypt agreed to expand their bilateral discussions on a chemical weapons ban and nuclear disarmament into the multilateral group framework, where talks were to be upgraded to the foreign minister level.

On 3/27, Israel and Morocco opened interest offices in Rabat and Tel Aviv, respectively, making Morocco the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to establish ties with Israel. In early May, the Israel-Morocco Chamber of Commerce, the first binational, Arab-Israeli chamber of its kind, opened in Tel Aviv.

In early April, Israel expanded its third world assistance program to include Jordan, the PA, Tunisia, and the UAE. The program offers technical courses in agriculture, public health, water, and science.

Inter-Arab Highlights

The PA and Jordan concluded several agreements: on exchanging agriculture goods according to mutual needs and forming subcommittees for technical cooperation (2/16); on monitoring commercial banking in the o.t. (3/24); on passage of goods between the o.t. and Jordan (4/ 26, 5/2); on cultural cooperation (4/26); and a comprehensive trade agreement, replacing previous accords governing Palestinian exports to Jordan, allowing Jordanian exports to the o.t., and giving duty-free status to over 100 industial products (5/4). The HigherJordanian-Palestinian Joint Committee held talks 4/19 on improving coordination and implementing agreementsigned 1/26. Jordan also appointed a diplomatic representative to the self-rule areas 4/12. 

On 5/6, the Arab League foreign ministers condemned Israeli confiscations, called on the UNSC to do the same, and discussed the Dole initiative to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. They called for and began organizing aformal Arab summit on Israeli land confiscations but dropped the plan after Israel suspended its 4/27 confiscation on 5/22.

Relations between Syria and Jordan continued to be cool in the wake of the signing of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty. On 5/8, Syria again declined Jordan's request to name its ambassador to Jordan and refused to host a visit of Jordanian FM Kabariti to Damascus to try to improve bilateral relations.

Regional Economic

Discussions continued this quarter on creating aMiddle East Development Bank (MEDB), formally proposed by Clinton on 10/26/94 and pursued at the Casablanca summit 11/94 and the meeting of financial experts hosted by the State Department 1/10-11. The experts' meeting resulted in the formation of the Task Force on Financing Institutions for Economic Development in the Middle East and North Africa, which would ideally meet monthly to work toward an ageement on the structure and purposes o- the MEDB. To date, the EU and the Gulf states (2/16) have resisted the idea of a capital-based lending institution while the U.S., Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the PA have supported it.

At the task force's first meeting in Washington on 3/9, the U.S. stuck by its original proposal for an MEDB with a $5 b. capital base that would cofinance projects with the private sector and do project lending only. The EU, on the other hand, proposed a similar "financial intermediation organization" that would not have a capital base but instead would help states "repackage" their resources or find grant money to finance their own privatesector deals. A follow-up meeting was held in Amman (4/2), to discuss details of each proposal and draft articles on points of agreement for a future accord.

On 4/10, the 30 members of the Middle East Economic Summit steering committee met in Amman to discuss the follow-up to the 11/94 Casablanca meeting scheduled for 10/95. One should note that, while the memberships of the steering committee, the task force, and the Multilateral Working Group on Economic Development largely overlap, each group is separate and has its own mandate. Neither Lebanon nor Syria participate in any of them.

On 4/28 in Morocco, OPIC announced the creation of Middle East and North Africa Investment Fund to encourage private sector investment in the self-rule areas, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia. Projects will focus on tourism, real estate, communications, consumer products, pharmaceuticals, and high tech industries. The fund's capital will be provided by U.S. private firms and guaranteed by OPIC. It is not meant to replace the MEDB.

A Christian Science Monitor report (3/ 30) showed that Israeli exports have risen 41 percent and imports 71 percent over the past five years as a result of the peace process. Asian markets, such as India, South Korea, and Japan, that were previously closed to Israel out of fear of offending oil-producing Arab states have opened up. Joint contracts, particularly with U.S. and German firms, have also grown with the unraveling of the Arab boycott.


This quarter witnessed a series of machinations that threatened regional stability and escalated the conflict between Iran and its growing sphere of influence, on the one hand, and the Saudi Arabia-led Sunni axis, on the other. While several Gulf States pursued a boycott against Qatar, other key players included Israel, Internet bots, multi-billiondollar weapons deals and a U.S. presidential Twitter storm that further convoluted the situation. A U.S. pro-Israel organization may also have had a behind-the-scenes hand in instigating the crisis. The resulting polarization marginalized the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, and had wide-ranging effects across the Middle East.

The catalyst came on 5/24 when explosive statements attributed to Qatar’s emir Shaykh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani appeared on Qatari state media that praised Iran, Hamas, and Israel. “Iran represents a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored and it is unwise to face [sic] up against it,” al-Thani was quoted as saying; he then allegedly characterized Qatar’s relations with Israel as “good,” described Hamas as the official representative of the Palestinian people, and said Doha had “tensions” with the Trump admin. The comments were unusual for al-Thani, who was under renewed pressure from Saudi Arabia and the U.S. to end Qatar’s relationships with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (see “Saudi Arabia” below).

Qatar officials immediately rejected the news reports, saying they were false and that their news agency and social media sites had been hacked. FBI agents sent to the tiny nation to investigate the source behind the alleged intrusion backed up that claim. They posited Russians were responsible, using methods similar to those they utilized during the U.S. presidential elections in 2016. Additionally, the Washington Post reported the presence of significant number of “bots,” automated social media accounts used to forward a particular agenda, attacking Qatar and its news agencies on Facebook and Twitter (6/7). Bots were used to plant fake news stories during the U.S. presidential election season. However, later U.S. intelligence reports pointed to the UAE as the instigator of the fake news stories, but left open the possibility that it could have contracted out the hacking scheme. The UAE’s amb. to the U.S., Yousef al-Otaiba, called (7/16) the report “false” and reiterated the Saudi-led bloc’s complaints instead: “What is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Qaddafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors.”

In response to the imbroglio, the UAE blocked several Qatari sites and television channels from broadcasting in its territory. While the Qataris were denying the initial story, the state news agency’s Twitter account posted a new story alleging that Qatari FM Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani had recalled Doha’s ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE. By the time Doha could deny that report, Saudi Arabia had joined (5/25) the UAE in blocking all Qatari media, including Al Jazeera.

To make matters more confusing, at the same time Qatar ordered some mbrs. of Hamas to leave the country according to Al Mayadeen (6/3), a group called GlobalLeaks released a trove of hacked emails from the account of UAE ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba indicating that the well-connected diplomat was working closely with the neoconservative, pro-Israel think tank Freedom for Defense of Democracies, on the issue of Iran. The think tank is funded by Sheldon Adelson, a major supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Intercept, 6/3). Qatar has been Hamas’s chief patron since the group’s former leader Khalid Mishal fled Damascus and the Syrian civil war for Doha in 2011. The Qatari govt. is also a principal supporter of the effort to rebuild Gaza after the Israeli assault in 2014 (see JPS 44 [1, 2]), and this move left the reconstruction plans in limbo. Although a Hamas spokesperson denied the reports on 6/4, other Palestinian sources confirmed (6/5) that a number of Hamas officials had dispersed to various countries, including Lebanon, Malaysia, and Turkey.

Hamas’s predicament was exacerbated on 6/5 when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the UAE severed economic ties with Qatar and withdrew their diplomatic staffs from Doha. They cited the Qatari govt.’s support for militant groups, including Hamas, and its alleged failure to help protect Saudi Arabia from terrorists. Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called (6/5) these moves “unjustified” and said they were “based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact.”

The conflict heightened long-standing tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and mirrored a similar incident in 2014 when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE recalled their ambassadors from Doha over its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and alleged Qatar was using its state-funded media to interfere in their internal affairs. They ultimately returned their ambassadors 8 mos. later when the Qatari govt. agreed, under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council, not to undermine their “interests, security, and stability.” Given the harsh rhetoric surrounding these developments, coupled with the apparent breakdown of the 2014 agreement, observers speculated that this round of conflict would last longer and have more deleterious effects.

As in 2014, the schism prompted other regional powers to choose sides and form alliances. The Maldives, the internationally recognized govt. in Yemen, and the govt. based in e. Libya all severed ties with Doha on 6/5. Jordan threw its lot in with this growing bloc on 6/6, downgrading ties with Doha and closing down Al Jazeera’s office in Amman. A senior Iranian official denounced (6/5) the Saudi strategy, saying “it is not a way to resolve crisis.” The Iranian govt. also started sending shipments of food and other aid to Qatar to alleviate reported shortages.

The U.S response appeared contradictory and confusing, given the U.S. military’s sizable presence in Qatar, where the Al-Udeid air base houses more than 11,000 U.S. and coalition troops (6/16). And just days after Trump accused the country of terrorism, the U.S. sold Qatar F-15 fighter jets worth $12 b. (6/16). “The $12-b. sale will give Qatar a state-of-theart capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the U.S. and Qatar,” the Pentagon indicated in its statement. A few weeks earlier, during Trump’s visit to the Middle East, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had finalized a $110 b. weapons deal. A White House spokesperson insisted (6/6) that the admin. was communicating with all parties in an effort to “resolve issues and restore cooperation,” but Trump openly sided with the Saudis, tweeting (6/6) that his recent trip to Saudi Arabia was “already paying off.” He toed the Saudi line throughout the conflict, accusing (6/9) Qatar of funding terrorism “at a very high level” and condemning Qatar’s “extremist ideology.” Meanwhile, other U.S. officials tacked closer to the Qatari position. Secy. of State Tillerson said (6/9) that the Saudiled boycott was “hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against [the Islamic State (ISIS)].”

Soon after announcing the boycott, the Saudi-led bloc presented its terms for a resolution. “We want to see Qatar implement the promises it made a few years back with regard to its support of extremist groups, its hostile media, and interference in affairs of other countries,” Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir said (6/6), referencing the 2014 conflict. Qatar, for its part, started working with Kuwait, which had stepped in to mediate a resolution. “We believe such differences between sister countries must be resolved through dialogue,” FM Al-Thani said (6/6).

Throughout the crisis, Hamas kept a low profile while also scrambling to maintain a modicum of regional support. On 6/7, the group issued a statement expressing “deep regret and disapproval” regarding al-Jubeir’s demand that Qatar end its patronage of Hamas as a precondition for any resolution. Then, on 6/10, senior Hamas official Musa Abu Marzuq pledged that Hamas would not intervene in other Arab states’ affairs“regardless of pressures or events.” The group also announced (6/10) that its new head Ismail Haniyeh would soon lead a delegation to Iran. Although the trip was not explicitly linked to the boycott crisis, closer ties with Iran were considered as possibly helping replace any lost support from Qatar. At least 1 Qatari official said (7/11) that Doha had no intention of ending its support for reconstruction projects in Gaza, and the Qataris signed (7/11) a new agreement to fund the construction of 8 new residential buildings in the strip.

After 2 weeks of mediation, Kuwaiti diplomats conveyed (6/22) to their Qatari interlocutors a list of 13 demands and a 7/3 deadline to respond. The Saudi-led bloc demanded that Qatar: shut down the Al Jazeera media network and other Qatari-funded news outlets; downgrade ties with Iran; expel mbrs. of the IRGC in Qatar and cut off military ties with Iran; sever ties with Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all other so-called extremist groups; and align with the Saudi-led bloc in accordance with the 2014 agreement. Qatar rejected the demands on 6/24, and a spokesperson responded, “This list of demands confirms what Qatar has said from the beginning—the illegal blockade has nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy.” After the Saudi-led bloc extended their deadline to 7/5, the Qataris again rejected the demands. The Egyptian, Saudi, UAE, and Bahraini FMs then met (7/5) in Cairo to formulate a new position. They agreed that the boycott would remain, but dropped the 13 demands, instead calling on Qatar to adhere to 6 broad principles, including a commitment to combat terrorism and to end all provocative and inciting acts. Qatar rejected those, too.

With no end in sight, the crisis between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc continued through the end of the quarter, despite ongoing mediation efforts. Tillerson visited Doha on 7/11 for talks, and signed an agreement to strengthen Qatar’s counterterrorism efforts.

As this conflictual regional dynamic played out, Israel exploited the situation by showing solidarity with the Saudi-led bloc. Various Israeli officials welcomed (6/5) the boycott of Qatar, and DM Lieberman said (6/5) that it presented new regional opportunities for Israel. Israeli leaders also have said that siding with the UAE is its best shot at minimizing Iran’s influence in the area (6/3). The Times reported (6/17) that Israel and Saudi Arabia had begun negotiating the establishment of economic ties, citing unnamed Arab and U.S. sources. Such a rapprochement would mark a significant step toward formalizing the two countries’ de facto alliance against Iran; however, sources close to the Saudi royal family said (6/17) that the report stemmed from wishful thinking within the Trump admin.

Also of note: PM Netanyahu met (6/12) with mbrs. of Israel’s press office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Shin Bet to discuss the possibility of revoking Al Jazeera’s license to operate in Israel. Nothing came of that conversation until the following mo., when Netanyahu posted (7/26) on Facebook that he had “several times appealed to law enforcement agencies demanding” the closure of the network’s Jerusalem bureau on the grounds that it “continues to incite violence.” He also pledged, “If this does not happen due to legal interpretation, I will work to enact the required legislation to expel Al Jazeera from Israel.” At the close of the quarter, Israel’s Communications Minister Ayoob Kara announced (8/6) plans to revoke the credentials of every Al Jazeera journalist working in Israel, pointing out that he had already asked cable and satellite networks to block the network’s transmission.

The growing rift between Iran and its growing sphere of influence, on the one hand, and the Saudi-led so-called Sunni axis, on the other, escalated further this quarter, with unresolved tensions over the previous quarter’s Saudi-led boycott of Qatar, which had repercussions as far away as Lebanon. As in previous quarters, the Saudi-Qatari conflict marginalized and divided the Palestinians and even threatened to upend the faltering U.S. peace initiative and the Palestinian reconciliation process.

Despite continued mediation efforts, the boycott persisted throughout the quarter. In mid-8/2017, after a mbr. of the Qatari ruling family, Sheikh Abdullah al-Thani, met with Saudi crown prince Mohammad, the Saudi govt. announced it would make a partial exception to the boycott and allow Qatari citizens to make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. However, as al-Thani was part of a branch of the ruling family that had been ousted in a 1972 coup attempt, the Qatari establishment appeared to interpret the concession as a threat. Days later, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry announced (8/24) that the emirate was reestablishing full diplomatic relations with Iran. The Qatari amb. returned to Tehran soon after the announcement, ending the diplomatic impasse that had resulted from Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shi‘ite religious figure in 1/2016 (see JPS 45 [3]).

By mid-9/2017, there were signs that the Qataris were interested in rolling back the tension. Two days after U.S. pres. Trump offered (9/7) to mediate in the crisis, Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani called (9/9) Prince Mohammad and expressed the desire to see the dispute between the 2 countries resolved, in a gesture that marked the first high-level direct contact between the 2 sides since the boycott went into effect on 6/5. However, any gains made by the call were lost by the end of the day. The Saudi Press Agency initially reported that Mohammad “welcomed” the emir’s sentiment. But after the state-run Qatar News Agency reported that the 2 men stressed the need to resolve the crisis by way of a face-to-face “dialogue to ensure the unity and stability” of the Gulf states, the Saudi position changed. An official at the Saudi Foreign Ministry accused (9/9) the Qataris of misrepresenting Prince Mohammad’s position. “This proves that the authority in Qatar is not serious . . . and continues its previous policies,” the official said. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia declares that any dialogue or communication with the authority in Qatar shall be suspended until a clear statement explaining its position is made in public.”

As the boycott entered its fifth mo., 3 developments on 11/4 significantly ratcheted up tensions across the region. First, Crown Prince Mohammad was appointed by his father, Saudi monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz, to lead a new Supreme Anti-Corruption Comm., which resulted in the detention of more than 200 mbrs. of the royal family, top officials, leading business figures, and other potential rivals in a campaign that commentators described as a major effort to consolidate the crown prince’s own power base. Second, Houthi fighters in Yemen fired a missile at Riyadh’s international airport, and although Saudi forces intercepted the missile before it could cause any damage or injuries, they launched a series of air strikes on Sanaa, causing unverified damage and injuries. “We see the [missile] as an act of war,” Saudi FM Adel al-Jubeir explained (11/6), accusing both Iran and Hezbollah of supporting the attack. “Iran cannot lob missiles at Saudi cities and towns and expect us not to take steps.” Third, in a surprise move, Lebanese PM Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh, saying he was afraid for his life and accusing Iran of meddling in Lebanon. “When I took office, I promised you that I would seek to unite the Lebanese and end political division . . . but I have been unable to do so. Despite my efforts, Iran continues to abuse Lebanon,” Hariri said, pointing to the growing influence of Hezbollah.

Hariri’s resignation sent shockwaves across the region. As the announcement was made in the Saudi capital and it aired on a Saudi television network, it sparked a wave of speculation about the possibility of Saudi coercion. After Lebanon’s pres. Michel Aoun initially requested (11/4) that Hariri stay on until a replacement could be found, his aides said (11/5) that the pres. would not accept Hariri’s resignation until he returned to Beirut to explain his reasons in person. Hezbollah secy.-gen. Hasan Nasrallah went further, describing (11/4) the speculation over Saudi coercion as “legitimate” and suggesting that Hariri, a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen, might have been caught up in the so-called anticorruption crackdown. One Iranian spokesperson denied (11/4) Hariri’s accusations as “unreal and baseless” and another echoed (11/4) Nasrallah: “Hariri’s resignation was done in coordination with Trump and Mohammad bin Salman to foment tension in Lebanon and the region.”

Both the Palestinians and Israelis were quickly embroiled in the evolving crisis. Israeli PM Netanyahu, a de facto Saudi ally against Iran, said (11/4) that Hariri’s resignation was a “wake-up call” to the international community to take action against Iran, “which is turning Syria into a second Lebanon.” According to a report on Israel’s Channel 10, Israel’s Foreign Ministry instructed (11/5) its ambassadors around the world to lobby their host govts. in favor of the Saudi position. “[Recent events] should cause [the world] to increase the pressure on Iran and Hezbollah on a range of issues, from ballistic missile production to its efforts at regional subversion,” the memo reportedly stated.

The Palestinian leadership in Ramallah also toed the Saudi line. Days after Hariri’s resignation, PA pres. Abbas flew to Riyadh and met with both King Salman (11/7) and Prince Mohammad (11/8). “The Palestinian leadership, as well as the Palestinian people, stand alongside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the face of attacks,” he said (11/8). King Salman reaffirmed (11/7) his support for the Palestinian cause and his commitment to do “all that is required to bring about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.” However, Abbas’s trip to Riyadh drew comparisons to Hariri’s predicament, prompting speculation about Saudi intentions for the aging Palestinian leader. A senior White House official lent credence to the rumors, saying that Abbas was told to either “accept Trump’s peace plan or quit,” according to an 11/12 report on Israel’s Channel 10. PLO Executive Comm. mbr. Majdalani rejected the report, calling the alleged ultimatum “fabricated, false, and untrue,” but his denial did nothing to quash the speculation that Abbas would be the next Arab leader pushed aside in the Saudi campaign for regional dominance.

Through the end of the quarter, Hariri’s predicament, and with it the future of Lebanon and the broader conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, was in flux. “Everyone, I am just fine,” Hariri tweeted (11/14). “Inshallah, I will return in 2 days.”It was still unclear, however, what the Saudi intentions were for Lebanon, how Hezbollah and Iran might respond, or whether Hariri would follow through on his resignation. By the end of the quarter on 11/15, Hariri had still not returned to Lebanon and was invited by the French pres., Emmanuel Macron, to come to France.

The controversy over Lebanese prime minister Hariri’s mysterious resignation on 11/4, and its subsequent withdrawal, came to an uneventful conclusion this quarter. Although it had been linked to emergent regional dynamics, specifically efforts by Gulf Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and Israel, on the other, to contain Iran’s growing sphere of influence across the region, there were few notable developments in Lebanon or any other contested arena.

Two weeks after announcing his resignation in a televised statement from Saudi Arabia, Hariri ended the speculation about being held in Riyadh against his will by flying to Paris for talks with French president Emmanuel Macron. Following his meeting with Macron, Hariri said (11/18) he would be returning to Beirut in “the coming days” and make his “position” known after meeting with Lebanese president Aoun, who had refused to accept Hariri’s resignation until it could be delivered in person. (Like many others in the Middle East and elsewhere, Aoun feared undue Saudi pressure on Hariri and the possibility that his resignation was not voluntary.) On his trip home to Beirut on 11/21, Hariri stopped off for talks with Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades in Nicosia and with Egyptian president al-Sisi in Cairo.

On his first full day in Lebanon, Hariri postponed (11/22) his resignation indefinitely. He told hundreds of supporters gathered outside his central Beirut home that he had tendered his resignation but had been asked by Aoun to hold off until the two had a chance to discuss the reasons and the “political background” to the decision. Less than two weeks later, Hariri formally rescinded (12/5) his resignation in a meeting of the Lebanese cabinet, during which the assembled officials signed on to a statement reaffirming Lebanon’s policy of “dissociation” from regional conflicts. First articulated in 2012, in relation to the war raging in neighboring Syria, the policy to distance Lebanon from several regional conflicts, including that in Yemen, was an attempt to defuse tensions inside the country between rival political factions favoring different sides in regional conflicts. “Developments in the region suggest a new wave of conflict. [. . .] We have to address this issue, and take a decision announcing our disassociation, in words and deeds,” Hariri said (12/5). He also warned against outside interference in Lebanese affairs and reaffirmed his determination not to allow any interference in other states’ affairs by “any Lebanese party”— a phrase widely viewed as a veiled reference to Hezbollah, an important member of Lebanon’s governing coalition whose military wing is active in Syria and is known to receive backing from Iran (Reuters, 12/5).

Quarterly Updates for (1 Jan 1970 — 1 Jan 1970)

The controversy over Lebanese prime minister Hariri’s mysterious resignation on 11/4, and its subsequent withdrawal, came to an uneventful conclusion this quarter. Although it had been linked to emergent regional dynamics, specifically efforts by Gulf Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and Israel, on the other, to contain Iran’s growing sphere of influence across the region, there were few notable developments in Lebanon or any other contested arena.