Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo

The year 2021 started with a joyful surprise.

The rift between Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries on the one side and Qatar on the other has ended at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held at Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday January 5th.

The embargo on Qatar by other members of GCC, which started on June 5 of 2017, has been an obstacle for countries outside the region such as Japan which has vested interests in both sides of the feud and wants cordial relations with both. It has been awkward if a businessman who travels to one country in one of the GCC countries have to visit a neighboring GCC country just across the border via long flights to and from Europe or Turkey.

It a is truly meaningful development that the diplomatic relations are restored and movement of people and goods across the borders has been resumed among the brotherly GCC countries.

Not only it was a cause of annoyance hindering swift business transactions, it has been a strategic hindrance for all of countries involved, except Iran, which took advantage of the lack of unity among GCC nations.

Turkey’s role in the Gulf was also strengthened by Qatar’s dependence on the Turkish troops stationed in the country.

The de-fact alliances with the U.S. for each Gulf countries have also been strained by the breakdown of relationship between the U.S. allies in the Gulf, each of which have U.S. bases and troops stationed in their soil as the cornerstone of their national security.

The feud spanned the almost entire period of Trump presidency, which is witnessing the most clamorous and disgraceful end for a U.S. administration, with the erratic crowd of supporters of the defeated president forcing their way into the U.S. Capitol building and occupying it. Mediating the Gulf rapprochement would have been accredited as one of the diplomatic achievements of Trump presidency under better circumstances. It might also be asked if there was any neglect of the situation on the side of the U.S. administration.

For the U.S. diplomats and military officers, the Gulf feud have been a hinderance of their professional duty. For some U.S. politicians, however, it might have seemed as well as an opportunity to manipulate them to into gigantic financial contributions, using the tactics of divide and rule.

With the symbolic embracement of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani by the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, a strategic decision was made, putting aside differences for the greater strategic good.