Whilst the world focuses on United States President Donald Trump and his strange tweets, there is a crisis simmering away in the Middle East that many people should be paying attention to, but are not. It is between Saudi Arabia, a host of other Arab nations and its much smaller neighbour Qatar. The crisis, which pertains to Saudi Arabian accusations that Qatar is sympathetic to terrorist groups has been followed by a cessation of Saudi-Qatari relations, a list of demands and the cutting of travel links with the outside world.
Whilst it is true that in the past I have said New Zealand should cut and run from Middle East politics, because New Zealand has been seeking to improve ties with Saudi Arabia and other M.E. countries, this is a crisis that we would do well to pay more attention to. Saudi Arabia is the ring leader. It is the regional power that challenges the perceived encroachment of Persia into the Middle East.
We should pay attention because there are several troubling aspects to this crisis that have the potential to affect New Zealand:
- There is a possibility that the United States would ask for more New Zealand involvement and New Zealanders should know the arguments for and against
- Whilst we should not have military involvement in Middle East wars without a United Nations directive, it is quite okay to raise concerns about human rights, breaches of international law and humanitarian issues should they arise
- Another crisis in a region already beset by wars and civil wars will just further complicate an already problematic situation in terms of trying to restore some semblance of stability
- The list of demands is bullying type behaviour from a country that has no respect for human rights, dissenters and has been accused of committing war crimes in Yemen
But if one were to ask the average New Zealander on the street what they think of the Qatar crisis, the respondent – assuming they even know where Qatar is – would most likely say “I don’t know” or “I don’t care”. Fort them there are bigger problems in life than a geopolitical crisis in the Middle East, such as paying rent, having enough money to put food on the table and so forth.
The media seem pretty content paying no attention whatsoever. Stuff, the main website for New Zealand newspapers may be the exception rather than the norm to this. Newshub, 1 News, Radio New Zealand and other outlets have shown little interest.
Whilst there is no immediate signs of a potential clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the stakes are very high if one does occur. Iran, like Syria is a major Russian ally in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia, like Israel is an equally major ally of the United States, to the point that a massive arms deal was concluded when United States President Donald Trump visited there last month. And there is a question that only Saudi Arabia and Iran could answer: would both sides refrain from directly attacking each other and risk dragging in their world power allies? Given the relative lack of regard for international law shown by Saudi Arabia and Iran this is a question of considerable magnitude.