While President Trump has personally claimed credit for the split between Qatar and the other Gulf Arab states, some US investigators are engaged in particularly wild speculation today, aiming to make the whole situation a plot carried out by Russian hackers.
A little over a week into the latest row, tensions between Qatar and other Gulf states is a hugely complicating factor for US foreign policy in the region, particularly since Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East. Qatar’s split is something that’s been an ongoing issue for years, based around differing views on the Arab Spring.
Fake news helped though, too, as while that row between Qatar and the Saudis has been a thing for years, this latest escalation centered around a report in the Qatar state media, right after President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia to make hawkish speeches about Iran, quoted the Qatari Emir warning against seeking military confrontation toward Iran.
This led to some public condemnations, and eventually Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirate, and Maldives all severed ties with Qatar outright, closing the border and blocking all ships and planes from Qatar going to their countries. Officials from those countries are accusing Qatar of being in league with Iran, and on top of that some are also claiming them to be supporting ISIS.
In the course of trying to defuse tensions, Qatari officials insisted the quote was incorrect, and later suggested that news outlet was hacked. They even brought the FBI in to investigate the hack, and if you get US officials and something hacking related in the same room together, someone’s going to bring up Russia.
So unsurprisingly, while Qatar’s Interior Ministry is focusing on investigating the putative hack, US investigators are going around telling US media outlets that they believe the Russian government hacked the Qatari news site, and planted the fake news report specifically to sew disconnect among key US allies.
There is no evidence of Russian involvement, of course, or even a plausible reason why Russia would hack the Qatari state media just to plant a misquote from the emir. Indeed, while Qatari officials say a hack took place, it’s entirely possible that the whole hacking narrative is just a way to distance the emir from the quote about not starting a war with Iran, which outraged the Saudis so much.