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An Immediate Threat?
by Mark Armstrong
with Iran Soon?
by Michael Burkert
Saudi ultimatum to Qatar brings
Middle East to brink of wider war
The 10-day ultimatum delivered last week by Saudi Arabia and its
allies—Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain—to Qatar has
dramatically escalated their confrontation with the tiny Persian Gulf
state, raising the prospect of military conflict.
The Saudi monarchy has issued demands that are designed to be rejected,
so as to create the pretext for further punitive steps beyond the
diplomatic, travel and trade blockade imposed earlier this month. Not
only is Qatar required to crack down on alleged terrorist and criminal
groups, and shut down its Al Jazeera news network, but also to severely
downgrade relations with Iran, expel Turkish military forces, toe the
diplomatic, military and economic line dictated by Riyadh, and pay
unspecified reparations for the supposed damage caused by its policies.
All of this is to be monitored by means of intrusive audits for the next
Not surprisingly, Qatari officials have rejected the ultimatum, which
would transform their country into a vassal state of Saudi Arabia.
Turkey, which, along with Iran, has provided aid to Qatar since the
imposition of the Saudi embargo, has also flatly dismissed the demands.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the call for the removal of
Turkish troops as “disrespectful toward Turkey.”
While Saudi Arabia has not issued specific military threats, any retreat
from its belligerent stand could trigger a political crisis in Riyadh.
The Saudi monarchy has hypocritically denounced Qatar as a sponsor of
terrorism in the Middle East, but its ultimatum to the Gulf state is
bound up with a far broader strategy, aimed at crushing Iranian
influence in the region.
The newly-installed Saudi heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, vowed
last month to ensure that a war with Iran would be fought on Iranian,
not Saudi, soil. The crown prince is publicly acknowledged to be the
architect of the brutal Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen,
which has killed some 12,000 people, left over 7 million on the brink of
starvation and unleashed a cholera epidemic that threatens many more
The Saudi demands on Qatar are akin to the ultimatum delivered by the
Austro-Hungarian Empire to Serbia in July 1914, following the
assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Austrian
demands, backed by a blank cheque for military action from Germany, were
designed to be rejected in order to provide the casus belli for an
invasion of Serbia. Amid the acute geo-political tensions throughout
Europe, the Austrian attack on Serbia plunged Europe and the world into
war within less than a fortnight.
While it is impossible to predict whether this or that flashpoint will
provide the trigger for world war, the worsening global economic crisis
is greatly exacerbating tensions between major and regional powers, as
each seeks to offload the burden onto its rivals in a scramble for
markets, cheap labour and geo-strategic advantage.
As Leon Trotsky warned in 1938, on the eve of World War II, in the
founding document of the Fourth International: “Under the increasing
tension of capitalist disintegration, imperialist antagonisms reach an
impasse, at the height of which separate clashes and bloody local
disturbances… must inevitably coalesce into a conflagration of world
dimensions. The bourgeoisie, of course, is aware of the mortal danger to
its domination represented by a new war. But that class is now
immeasurably less capable of averting war than on the eve of 1914.”
Changing what needs to be changed, Trotsky’s warning applies to the
current explosive situation, not just in the Middle East, but also in
Eastern Europe and North East Asia. The chief destabilising factor in
world politics today is the role of US imperialism, which, in the
Persian Gulf, is egging on Saudi Arabia in a manner analogous to
Germany’s support for Austria in July 1914.
While US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged talks and suggested
that some of the Saudi demands might be “very difficult” for Qatar to
meet, President Donald Trump has signalled his full support for Riyadh’s
aggressive action, declaring its blockade to be “hard but necessary.”
Trump has boasted that his visit to Saudi Arabia last month, in which
arms deals worth nearly half a trillion dollars were reached, was
responsible for Riyadh’s tough stance against “terrorism” and Qatar.
Tillerson’s more equivocal remarks reflect concerns in Washington,
particularly the Pentagon, about the impact of the standoff on the huge
US military base in Qatar, home to 11,000 US troops, and the forward
base for the US Central Command and US intelligence gathering in the
Trump, however, has made no secret of his determination to undermine
Iran, in the first instance by ramping up the US-led conflict in Syria.
Under the pretext of defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
(ISIS), which has its roots in Sunni extremists backed by Saudi Arabia
and its allies, the US is now seeking to carve out no-go areas or
“deconfliction zones” to use as bases for waging its war to oust Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran and Russia.
The explosive situation in the Middle East is a product of, not just the
recklessness of the Trump administration, but a quarter century of
criminal wars of intervention by US imperialism, which have destroyed
whole societies, killed millions of people, and turned many millions
more into homeless refugees. In the process of seeking to secure its
dominance over the strategic oil-rich region, the United States has
effectively destroyed the state-system imposed by British and French
imperialism in the aftermath of World War I, setting off a new great
power struggle to redivide the Middle East, a key strategic crossroad
between Europe, Asia and Africa.
US imperialism has aligned itself with the most reactionary regimes in
the Middle East—the Egyptian military dictatorship as well as the
autocratic monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Israel has
signalled its support for the blockade of Qatar as well as the US war in
Syria to oust Assad. Turkey and Iran are actively supporting Qatar,
while in Syria, a clash between US and Russian forces threatens to bring
the two nuclear-armed powers into direct conflict.
The European powers are by no means indifferent to the unfolding crisis,
which threatens their economic and strategic interests in the Middle
East, including their developing relations with Iran and Qatar. In a
recent interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, German
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel criticised the “dramatic” harshness of
relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and its allies. He warned that
“this dispute could lead to war.” For its part, France has recently been
engaged in joint military exercises with Qatar in the Persian Gulf.
What has been revealed are the emerging fault lines of a war that can
quickly drag in regional and major powers and plunge humanity into a
catastrophe. Such a conflict is inevitable—whatever the particular
trigger in Europe, Asia or the Middle East—unless the working class
intervenes, on the basis of its own socialist and internationalist
program, to put an end to the outmoded profit and nation-state systems,
the root causes of war.