The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has denied The Washington Post’s report that claims it was behind the hacking of the state-run Qatar News Agency in May, which has resulted in one of the worst diplomatic crises for the Arab Gulf in decades.
In May, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was quoted in a story by the official Qatar News Agency as praising the Hamas as the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and supporting Iran as an “Islamic power that cannot be ignored.” While Qatari officials declared that the news agency was hacked and the quotes were fabricated, the story circulated around the Gulf and subsequently, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain blocked all Qatari news and social media. On June 5, the four countries severed all ties with the small country, and have since maintained an economic and diplomatic boycott.
The Post reported last week that US intelligence officials confirmed a meeting between UAE government members about hacking Qatari media sites on May 23, one day before the hack occurred. The Post was unsure if the attack was committed by the UAE or an outside source. The Guardian disclosed that the FBI has concluded that freelance Russian hackers executed the attack. The Qatari Government Communication Affairs Office said in a statement that “[the report] unequivocally proves that this hacking crime took place,” and has accused its neighbours of violating international law and the agreements made by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), according to The Guardian. Anwar Gargash, the UAE foreign minister, said on Monday, “The Washington Post story is not true. It is purely wrong. You will see in the next few days the story will die.”
The boycott carried out by the four Gulf countries was on the basis that Qatar has supported Islamist groups and its relations with Iran. Qatar has publicly stated that it has aided Islamist groups, some of which have been viewed as terrorist groups by its Gulf neighbours, such as the Muslim Brotherhood yet it has denied helping groups with links to Al-Qaeda or Islamic State (IS). While the reasoning behind the boycott is understandable, it occurred only two weeks after the hack and seems a bit rash because it opens many larger issues.
Firstly, in terms of international commerce, the four nations will not ask companies to choose to do business with either them or Qatar. However, European nations and others are concerned about the stability of the market in the Middle East if the crisis were to continue. The U.S. is also troubled how the crisis will affect worldwide anti-terrorism measures against groups like ISIS. Secondly, Qatar is a small country in the Gulf with a population of 2.7 million and while it is rich in oil and gas, it depends on land and sea imports for its citizens’ basic needs. The BBC reported that about 40% of its food comes through the Saudi Arabia land border, but Turkey and Iran have been supplying food via air and sea recently. Finally, the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic alliance made up of six Middle Eastern countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman), is on the brink of collapsing.
Gargash said in a lecture at Chatham House, “Without that change of behavior, it is in our interest to continue to seek a separate path from that of Qatar. This is our message: You cannot be part of a regional organisation dedicated to strengthening mutual security and furthering mutual interests, and at the same time undermine that security and harm those interests. You cannot be both our friend and the friend of Al Qaeda.” Gargash stated that the crisis is mainly an issue of trust. The four nations gave Qatar a list of 13 demands, which included ending terrorist and extremist organization support, shutting down the Al Jazeera TV network, severing ties with Iran, and closing a military base in Turkey. Qatar refused to agree and the quartet of countries have now issued six broad principles they want Qatar to commit to.
The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait in hopes of mediating the conflict, but hasn’t found much avail. On July 11th, Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. regarding terrorism funding. However, the BBC reported that a Saudi-led bloc said the deal was “not enough.” The U.S. has taken proper measures to help the crisis, but it must continue to work toward a regional solution, as proposed by Gargash. The four Gulf nations have adamantly stated that they do not trust the Qatari government, so it may be in the best interest for Qatar to honour the memorandum of understanding and make a statement to its neighbours.
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