Saudi Arabia sees a window closing with Qatar
Following the lead of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Libya and Yemen have cut all diplomatic ties with Doha. Land connections from Qatar’s only neighbor Saudi Arabia have been closed, air and sea connections canceled. The six Arab nations have also demanded that all Qatar citizens must leave within the next 14 days.
Publicly stated reason for these drastic measures is prolonged support of terrorism and extremism by elements within Doha government. Reason seems somewhat far fetched as all of the six nations that severed ties with Qatar are also plagued with extremism and Saudi Arabia is widely considered as the biggest financier of terror and extremist Islam in the world.
An important underlying issue are the Qatari oil and natural gas reserves that are the third largest in the world. And as Saudi Arabia has been burning through their own oil-based wealth with an increasing speed, the temptation to annex some more reserves and production may be too strong to resist.
While the actual political reasons and agendas might not be known, the timing seems to be driven by defense technical aspects rather than any current subversive activities by the Doha government.
While the 12000 strong Armed Forces of Qatar are tiny when compared to the large and well equipped Saudi military with 800000 men, the still largely mercenary based Qatar forces have proven themselves in combat. More importantly Qatar has been on a defense shopping spree recently, but the majority of the new equipment isn’t active yet.
The Qatar Emiri Air Force is waiting for the delivery of 18 Dassault Rafale and 36 Boeing F-15QA Strike Eagle fighters to replace its aging fleet of 12 Mirage 2000 fighters and six Dornier Alpha Jets. While the Saudi air force could easily wipe out the existing fleet, neutralizing the new Qatari acquisitions could be very costly.
Similarly Qatar is waiting for a delivery of 62 Leopard 2A7+ main battle tanks from the German company KMW. These tanks are the very cutting edge of the western tank development and they would be a significant addition to the existing fleet of 30 AMX-30 tanks that are starting to show their age.
While I have no insight on what Saudi Arabia is planning to do. It is not hard to see, that if Saudis are considering a military or Crimean-style annexation, the right time to act would be now. In a year or two the Saudi Arabian armed forces would have to use considerably more force to defeat Qatar. Prolonged operation against Qatar Armed Forces would stretch Saudi forces, that already battling both domestic extremists and Houthi-rebels in Yemen, very thin.
A situation where Qatar, equipped with the cutting edge weaponry, decides to align itself with the Iranians to fend of Saudi aggression is something that no-one in Riyadh is willing to risk.