Below is an English translation of the German-language article:
BILD: What are the exact reasons behind the blockade of Qatar by four ME countries? “Only” the financial support of ISIS and Al-Qaeda or also a political affiliation with Iran? Same complex: What are the practical demands by the four states to Qatar?
EPS: The stated reasons are Qatar’s alleged interference in domestic affairs and support for terrorism, a list of which interestingly includes both Shiite (aka Iranian-backed) and Sunni groups. It’s important to mention that this is a notable escalation/expansion from what started these tensions, i.e. controversial statements attributed to Qatar’s Emir regarding Iran, Israel, and the US but which Doha stated was actually the result of a hack. The aim of these moves is likely to pressure Qatar, both politically and economically, into changing its policies, especially vis-a-vis Iran and Sunni groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
BILD: Is there a connection between the recent Trump speech in the KSA – on terror financing – and the measures taken now?
EPS: No, I don’t think there’s a direct link, even if one of the alleged statements by Qatar’s Emir related to “tensions” with the US administration. This should be primarily seen as related to intra-GCC disagreements.
BILD: How will the blockade affect Qatar, talking about security of supply, tourism and (air) traffic?
EPS: In practical terms, Qatar will suffer economically from these measures. The closure of the four countries’ airspace to Qatar, for example, means that its national airline will need to reroute its flights travelling west and northwest, such as to Europe and North Africa. The shuttering of the border with Saudi Arabia means that any overland shipping will cease, while the closure of territorial waters means that shipping routes will need to be altered. Tourism will also likely take a hit.
BILD: How will the blockade affect Qatar’s role within the US-led “anti-ISIS coalition”? (The participation in the Yemen coalition was terminated, we hear.)
EPS: Qatar was, indeed, ejected from the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. When it comes to its participation within the US-led coalition, I don’t think this will alter the status quo and statements from the US indicate it will be business as usual. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson specifically stated that it won’t have “any significant impact, if any impact at all” on the fight against terrorism regionally or globally. The US Ambassador to Qatar also tweeted statements expressing US support and appreciation for Qatar’s fight against terrorist financing. In addition to its interest in maintaining membership in the coalition, the US a key military presence in the country, with CENTCOM’s forward headquarters based there.
BILD: “Was this it?” Or is there a change escalation in diplomatic measures, maybe even resulting in military conflict?
EPS: I think the risk for military conflict is low and this is because a unified (emphasis on unified) GCC is still considered an important counter-balance to Iran in the region. It’s not in anyone’s interest to see this devolve into a military conflict.
BILD: How long do you think, the four states will maintain the taken measures. Is it a short / medium or long-term strategy?
EPS: If the strategy is to strong arm Qatar into changing its policies, then the ultimate goal is a mediated solution that sees a shift in these policies. Although this rift far exceeds that of 2014, we can look to events of that year for guidance. The four countries involved here withdrew their ambassadors then for similar reasons, but predominantly Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Ultimately, relations resumed after mediation, including by Kuwait, and I think we might see a similar situation here.
BILD: What would Qatar have to do so the “blockade” measures removed? And do you think it will it fold to the demands?
EPS: If 2014 is any indication, a negotiated settlement can likely be reached. While Qatar will need to weigh the pros of resuming relations as usual with the cons of being seen as giving in to demands, the other states will also need to consider the ramifications of long-term disunity within the GCC and the potential of pushing Doha too far into the arms of other parties (i.e. Iran).
BILD: Last but not least: The FIFA world cup will be in Qatar in 2022. Do you think the international planning will continue if the country is accused of collaborating with designated terror organisations?
EPS: I don’t know a lot about soccer, but I think there’s a lot of time between now and 2022 to resolve this. It’s also worthwhile to mention that Qatar has weathered other controversies related to the World Cup, including issues related to conditions of foreign workers and bribery allegations.
Read the interview in German here