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Qatar Crisis
A Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Before breaking off relations completely last month, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were engaged in a brief media war with Qatar in response to the apparent hacking of the Qatar News Agency. The hackers posted inflammatory quotes attributed to Qatar’s Emir Tamim in support of Iran and Hamas.

One of the unanswered questions in the crisis is who hacked QNA and why. A Washington Post report yesterday points the finger at the UAE:

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.

The attribution should be taken with several grains of salt. Last month, CNN— likewise citing anonymous US intelligence officials— attributed the hack to Russians. These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, as it’s conceivable that the UAE may have contracted the hack to an outside group.

Still, there are good reasons to presume that the Post‘s story is true. For one thing the Emiratis had a clear motive to carry out the hack in order to precipitate a crisis. And, as we wrote at the time, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt all acted in unison to block Qatari media outlets shortly after the hack. If true, it dirties the hands of the anti-Qatari bloc, who had been trying to make a moral case that Qatar has been acting in bad faith towards its GCC partners and the United States.

But while a long-festering Arabian cold war would benefit no one, some good may yet come out of all of this. Further afield, the squeeze on Qatar seems to have driven Hamas to the bargaining table. Mohammed Dahlan, supported by the UAE and Egypt, may return to the Gaza strip in a power sharing agreement that would leave him well-placed to succeed the 82 year-old Mahmoud Abbas. The details remain sketchy, but amid disastrous electricity shortages and cut off from international donors like Qatar, the prospect of a deal pushing Hamas towards some kind of moderation or power sharing in Gaza with more moderate forces has never been more plausible.

From the American perspective, a Hamas deal coupled with a meaningful agreement with Qatar to stop financing international terrorist groups should probably count as a win. President Trump’s stated rationale for opposing Qatar in the crisis is their financial support for terrorism. After a round of shuttle diplomacy, Secretary of State Tillerson has secured just such an agreement with Qatar to combat terrorism financing (though the details of the agreement remain unclear). The anti-Qatari bloc has more demands—shutting down all the media organizations deemed as irritants—but it’s not clear that this would be of strategic consequence to, nor a good look for, the United States to be insisting on these matters. Maybe Secretary Tillerson, a man with deep experience in the region, can wind these talks up soon.

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  • Arkeygeezer

    Looks like CNN and WaPo are using the “unnamed sources” gambit again to substantiate their questionable “news” speculation.

  • Pait

    It is likely that a hack would have Russian fingerprints. The Gulf states don’t really have much computer expertise, but the Emirates do have money to pay hackers. Russians hackers for hire are certainly available. I can think of many reasons why others would not do the work, so the choice is reasonable.

    But of course it’s A OK that the US risks losing its base in the Gulf because Hillary sent emails.

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