Fake news behind Gulf crisis?

Fake news behind Gulf crisis?
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was behind the hacking of Qatari government and news sites. A report by the Washington Post has cited US intelligence officials, who are now convinced that Abu Dhabi had orchestrated the hack to destabilize Qatar..

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was behind the hacking of Qatari government and news sites.

A report by the Washington Post has cited US intelligence officials, who are now convinced that Abu Dhabi had orchestrated the hack to destabilize Qatar.

The hacking was partly responsible for the current diplomatic crisis in the region.

Background

The event that triggered the crisis occurred in May 24, 2017 when Qatari news agency along with government websites were hacked. As a result, articles were uploaded in which Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani seemingly spoke warmly of Iran and even expressed support for Hezbollah and Israel. The Qatari government denied its involvement.

Weeks later, a number of Gulf nations including Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar for allegedly sponsoring terrorism. The nation’s border, air and sea links have been cut off.

US President Donald Trump initially backed the UAE and the Saudis for imposing the blockade. He also tweeted, “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding... extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism.”

The Arab bloc led by Saudi Arabia sent 13 non-negotiable demands from Qatar. They called upon Qatar to reduce its ties to Iran and sever its alleged links to al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic militant groups. Qatar has ignored these demands leading to an impasse.

Analysis

Contrary to the approach taken by Trump, members of his administration have been more cautious while trying to resolve this problem. All the parties involved in this conflict are allies of the US. Qatar is home to the largest US airbase in the Middle East. 

Recently, the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson visited Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to seek a solution. During the visit, the US signed an agreement to fight terrorism alongside Qatar.

Now, the Washington Post has reported that US intelligence officials believe top UAE government officials discussed the planned hacks on May 23. The officials are currently unsure on whether UAE paid contractors to hack or carried out the act itself. UAE has denied its involvement.

The Qatari government, however, has said this “unequivocally proves that this hacking crime took place.”

Assessment

Our assessment is that cyber security is a war of narratives. There has been no major blockade of a country after the one in Berlin after the World War II. It is alarming that fake news was sufficient to convince the president of one of the most powerful countries to act without verifying the authenticity of the news. This is ominous and does not portend well for the future. It is extremely important for nations and their leaders to verify such news before acting against another country. 

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