If you’ve been following the Qatar saga since Monday you know that while some reports suggest the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was a ransom payment made to Iran back in April, there’s certainly an argument to be made that what pushed Riyadh over the edge were comments attributed to Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani that showed up on Qatar News Agency late last month.
Those comments (allegedly delivered at a military graduation ceremony), included conciliatory remarks about Iran and Hezbollah.
Needless to say, that pissed the Saudis off really – really – bad.
For their part, Qatar claims the comments were never made and that the whole story was “fake news” planted by hackers.
Here’s the Al-Jazeera headline that ran when the whole thing started on May 24:
Well, as we outlined in detail on Tuesday morning, the biggest winner so far from the whole fiasco is probably Iran.
That, in turn, raises questions about who might have been behind the hacking if indeed Al Thani did not say what the supposedly planted story claims he said.
Tehran’s list of allies is not very long, and so when you look at that list and ask yourself which ally is most capable of hacking into state computers and planting fake stories, all roads lead to the Kremlin.
Here’s CNN out Tuesday evening:
US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US’ closest Gulf allies, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.
The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, Qatari and US government officials say.
Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion first reported by the Qatari government two weeks ago, US officials say. Qatar hosts one of the largest US military bases in the region.
The alleged involvement of Russian hackers intensifies concerns by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia continues to try some of the same cyber-hacking measures on US allies that intelligence agencies believe it used to meddle in the 2016 elections.
US officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the US and its allies.
In recent months, suspected Russian cyber activities, including the use of fake news stories, have turned up amid elections in France, Germany and other countries.
It’s not yet clear whether the US has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services blamed for the US election hacks. One official noted that based on past intelligence, “not much happens in that country without the blessing of the government.”
There are all kinds of reasons why Moscow might have sought to exacerbate the rift between Qatar and the GCC not the least of which is the war in Syria where Doha supports forces that oppose Russia, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime. If Moscow and Tehran could manage to put Qatar in a situation where they’re reliant on Iran, Russia might be able to secure leverage over the Doha-backed rebels in Syria.
We’ll leave it at that for now, but you’ll undoubtedly be hearing (much) more about this in the next 48 hours.