Recent moves by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates suggest that the two Gulf states may be looking for ways to reduce tensions with Iran that permeate multiple conflicts wracking the Middle East and North Africa.

A two-month old crisis pitting Qatar against an alliance led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is proving to be a double-edged sword.

Feuding Gulf states that have pumped millions of dollars into public diplomacy appear to have done better in damaging the reputations of their detractors than in polishing their own tarnished images.

A French investigation into possible corruption in business deals related to Qatar’s winning of World Cup hosting rights moved the 2022 tournament a step closer to becoming enmeshed in the two- month-old Gulf crisis.

As US President Donald J. Trump gropes with a set of bad options for responding to North Korea’s rapidly expanding nuclear and ballistic missiles program, he risks creating a similar, potentially explosive dilemma in the Middle East with his efforts to tighten the screws on Iran, if not engineer an end to the two-year old nuclear agreement Iran concluded with world powers.

Saudi Arabia, with the Islamic State on the ropes in Iraq, is forging ties to Iraqi Shiite leaders and offering to help fund reconstruction of Mosul and other predominantly Sunni Muslim cities that were devastated in the military campaign against the jihadist group.

A web of formal and informal Israeli-Arab relations and common fears of renewed popular uprisings that could threaten regimes and benefit Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood facilitated Israel’s backing down in the crisis over Jerusalem’s Temple Mount or Haram al Sharif, home to Islam’s third most holy shrine, the Al Aqsa mosque.

Lurking below the surface of the Gulf crisis, are rival, yet troubled, attempts by Qatar and its detractors to use sports to boost soft power and/or launder tarnished images of their autocracies.

Buried in the Gulf crisis is a major development likely to reshape international relations as well as power dynamics in the Middle East: the coming out of small states capable of punching far above their weight with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, a driver of the crisis, locked into an epic struggle to rewrite the region’s political map.

Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., Grace Wakim & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D.

Allah Akbar (meaning God is Greatest) is a colloquial expression commonly used by Muslims, especially in the Arab world, to praise God and express commitment to the religion of Islam. Muslims often use the term to express emotions, such as gratitude, fear, and joy.

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