According to the country’s foreign minister, Saudi Arabia is pushing its former ally Qatar to send its military into Syria or face dire consequences. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir issued the threat in response to U.S. government efforts to create an “Islamic coalition” of troops from neighboring countries that will act as a permanent military “stabilizing force” as a precondition to the U.S. removing its own forces from Syria’s occupied Northeast.
Jubeir stated on Wednesday that, were Qatar to decline to be part of the new coalition, the U.S. would cancel American protection of the country, which is home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East. Qatar, he said, must “send its military forces (to Syria), before the US president cancels US protection of Qatar, which consists of the presence of a US military base on its territory.”
Jubeir stated that the U.S. withdrawal of protection and military aid would lead the Qatari government “to fall there in less than a week,” insinuating that the country’s failure to send its military to Syria at the behest of the U.S. and Saudis in Syria could result in regime change.
According to a statement released by the Saudi Press Agency:
Based on the US President Donald Trump statement, during a joint press conference held with his visiting French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir announced that Qatar should pay the voucher of the price of US military forces’ presence in Syria, and to send its military forces there, before the US President lifts American protection of the State of Qatar, embodied in the presence of US military base, on its soils.
The Foreign Minister reasserted US President utterance that if the US is to withdraw its protection, represented in the military base located in Qatar, then that regime will fall, within less than a week.
It is unclear if the U.S. government supports the Saudi’s push for Qatari involvement and if they would shut down their military base in Qatar were the country not to send troops to Syria. Qatar is eager to preserve ties with the U.S. and has been reportedly pushing the U.S. to expand its base in the country by renovating its naval ports as well as pushing the Pentagon to make the base permanent.
Whether Qatar will send troops to Syria at behest of the Saudis is anyone’s guess. Indeed, the country was once a major player in the Syrian conflict and some have argued that it was Syria’s rejection of a Qatari gas pipeline in favor of an Iranian gas pipeline that helped to initiate the conflict. Qatar also covertly funded several rebel groups active in Syria, including terrorist groups, that have been fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The reported ultimatum is the just the latest example of deteriorating relations between Qatar and their former ally Saudi Arabia. The diplomatic row began in June of last year, when the Saudis, along with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Yemen, cut ties with the country after claiming that it supports terrorism. Trump followed suit, calling Qatar a “high-level sponsor of terrorism,” and later took credit for the crisis. However, the issue was not Qatar’s support for terrorism as much as Qatar’s consideration of working with Iran to develop massive natural gas reserves that both countries share.
Ultimately, Qatar failed to acquiesce to past Saudi demands and ultimatums, an embarrassing failure for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman who was largely behind the dramatic falling out.
Given that the past threats leveled at Qatar by the Saudi and its allies failed to change their foreign policy, it seems unlikely that it will now bow to Saudi pressure. If Qatar does choose to join the Saudis in occupying northeastern Syria, it would likely be due to the country’s past of fomenting the conflict in Syria and its funding of rebel groups active in the conflict, rather than concern over Saudi-backed regime change.