Qatar repeatedly expressed its staunch refusal to normalise with Israel.
The UAE and Israel reportedly established a secret unit in an attempt to “sabotage” the GCC reconciliation, citing its threats to their interests, Emirates Leaks reported on Wednesday.
Sources told Emirates Leaks, a platform known for exposing UAE scandals, that the unit is a joint effort between UAE National Security Adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed and senior Israeli security officials.
The two reportedly agreed to launch media campaigns inciting hate against Qatar while provoking Saudi Arabia, given their view that the Qatar-Saudi rapprochement “harms their interests and delays the pace of public normalisation with Riyadh”.
“The same sources indicated that it was noticed in the recent period that Israeli and Emirati accounts published composite videos of previous events and statements aimed at re-igniting the controversy over Saudi-Qatar relations,” reported Emirates Leaks.
Signed in January last year, the historic Al-Ula Declaration ended the 2017 diplomatic crisis that saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt sever ties with Qatar.
The dispute was the worst the Gulf crisis since 2014 and saw the blockading quartet impose an illegal air, land and sea blockade on the Qatar.
However, since ending the crisis in 2021, rapprochement between Qatar and Saudi Arabia has appeared to move at a faster pace. On the other hand, ties between Doha and Abu Dhabi took a longer time to warm.
To date, Qatar and the UAE have not reinstated ambassadors.
Notably, a new book by former White House Advisor Jared Kushner revealed how Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) approached him to help reconcile him with Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during the 2017 GCC crisis.
“I called the Saudi crown prince from a conference room at the amir’s palace in Doha and he assured me that he was sincere in his quest for reconciliation and that he was ready to make concessions,” said Kushner in his book, as quoted in tweets by Al Araby journalist Zaid Benjamin.
“MbS liked the emir of Qatar personally and wanted to end the dispute”, Kushner stated in his book.
Despite the end of the crisis, Qatar has continued to face sporadic online campaigns that led have attempted to spread false information about the Gulf state.
QLeaks, a dubious platform that has been at the forefront of a major disinformation campaign against Qatar, was recently exposed by Eekad in an investigation.
Battle of information
Speaking to Doha News, Dr. Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London, said the report points to differing ideologies that have prevailed despite Al-Ula, some of which are “irreconcilable”.
“Formally, on the surface, you shake hands, you have agreements, you restore diplomatic relations. Below the surface, there are certain ideological elements between Qatar and the UAE that have not been reconciled,” said Dr. Krieg.
The elements, Dr. Krieg noted, are related to how the two countries view the Middle East, with the UAE attempting to “achieve a region of authoritarian stability”.
“The Qataris on the other hand want to achieve a region where there is a degree of freedom of speech, where there is a degree of popular participation,” he added.
Ironically, while Qatar moved closer towards democracy in October by hosting its first ever Shura Council elections, Doha News identified a range of online campaigns targeting the country.
Among the findings of the investigation was an attempt to spread disinformation by promoting alleged public dissatisfaction towards Qatar’s government.
In the lead up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, UAE-based campaigns were also seen spreading false information regarding the much-anticipated event.
“While Saudi obviously was also dragged into that escalation with Qatar, it was in the end of the day designed by the Emiratis and the Emiratis were the ones who were always pushing to ostracise Qatar from the beginning, from since before 2014,” said Dr. Krieg.
The UAE and Israel, which normalised ties in 2020 under the Abraham Accords, also see Qatar’s stance regarding the occupation of Palestine and its vocal opposition to normalisation as a major threat.
“Al Jazeera is very strong on supporting the Palestinian cause and Al Jazeera has been classified in the minds of Israelis as a threat to their national security. So Qatar is a threat to their national security in the information environment,” said Dr. Krieg.
Qatar, together with Kuwait, has continued to issue strong statements against ongoing crimes committed by the Israeli regime, calling out its illegal occupation of Palestine on various occasions on the global stage.
While one hand Emirati media continues to promote the UAE’s newly-publicised friendly ties with Israel Qatari officials, including the amir himself, have made global headlines for slamming the Zionist state’s recurrent violence and aggression against Palestinians.
The stark difference in stances regarding the Palestinian cause was seen during the latest Israeli offensive on Gaza, which ended following a Qatar-brokered ceasefire earlier this month.
Collectively, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have expressed their commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. Adopted by the GCC, the initiative stipulates that member states shall refrain from normalising with Israel until it fully withdraws from lands occupied in 1967.
Last month, US President Joe Biden’s visit to Jeddah onboard a direct flight from Tel Aviv was seen as a failed attempt to get Saudi Arabia to join the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in signing the Abraham Accord.
Other ideological differences between Qatar and the UAE have to do with their stances on Syria, with the latter normalising with the Assad Regime as Doha continues to reject such a step.
The regional divide between the GCC nations was highlighted during the 2011 Arab Spring, most notably through coverage of each country’s media outlets at the time.
“The greatest fear was during the Arab spring that you had democratic forces who would have to act in the interest of public opinion in the Arab world and suppressing public opinion also means suppressing the Palestinian cause,” said Dr. Krieg.
The political analyst noted that in the presence of democratic forces, “they would have had to take a stronger stance in Palestine and also a stronger stance against Israel.”
A double game
While the Emirates Leak report presents a different view behind the scenes of the Qatar-UAE rapprochement, the same appears to apply to the Emirates ties with Tehran.
“There might be a formal engagement with Iran, but the UAE will continue sponsoring think tanks and information networks that are anti Iran and the same is true for Qatar,” said Dr. Krieg.
Last week, the UAE announced the return of its envoy to Tehran for the first time in six years. The announcement came amid positive statements over a restored nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“I think the Emiratis are being very pragmatic also knowing that the JCPOA is likely going to come in one shape or form, if not now, then at some other point. They’re trying to create a plan B and there are still divisions within the UAE,” said Dr. Krieg.
Among a list of key demands issued by the quartet at the time was the severance of ties between Qatar and Iran. Doha had rejected such demands and declared its independence and sovereignty as red lines.
While the recent return of the UAE’s envoy to Tehran raised questions over Abu Dhabi’s ties with Israel, analysts slammed the move as hypocritical given its previous demands.
Dr. Kristian Ulrichsen, Fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told Doha News:“Going forward, the Israeli reaction to the UAE sending its ambassador back to Iran and deepening ties with Tehran will be a key issue to watch, especially given the close security and defence ties that the UAE and Israel have established.”