Russian hackers 'planted false story' behind Mideast crisis

Energy-rich Qatar has long had strained ties with its neighbours but the move by Riyadh and its supporters shocked observers, raising fears the crisis could destabilise an already volatile region. "Our relationship is extremely good", Trump said following his meeting with then of U.S-Qatar relations.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told journalists in Paris on Tuesday that Qatar needed to take several steps, including cutting support for the Palestinian organization Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in order to restore ties with key Arab League players.

USA 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 U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.

The incidental effects will still be there though; trade, air travel and other connections with Qatar will undergo some strain, even if they are not consciously disrupted. Qatar denies supporting extremism.

Reuters believes that the hawkish tone Trump brought in his visit to over 50 Muslim leaders in Riyadh on Tehran and on terrorism is seen to have laid the groundwork for the new diplomatic crisis.

In his tweet, Trump did not take a position on the decision by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar but appeared to suggest it was understandable.

In fact, USA officials were blindsided by Saudi Arabia's decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar in a coordinated move with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), current and former officials in Washington told Reuters.

Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of the US military's Central Command.

There are also deep financial and business links between the two countries based on Qatar's leading role as a gas producer.

Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, who assumed the throne in 2013, has focused more on domestic affairs than foreign adventures.

Qatar and Exxon have had development agreements for more than a decade, with Exxon helping Qatar to become the world's largest LNG exporter.

In the harshest measures, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain's civil aviation bodies banned Qatari planes from landing in their airports and banned them from using their airspace.

The Pentagon on Tuesday said it could not square President Trump's tweets about Qatar and terrorism with its own statement about the country's enduring commitment to regional security.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday.

"Qatar is a small country that survives by balancing its friends against its enemies and not making clear who are the friends and who are the enemies", said Simon Henderson, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

FlightRadar24, a popular airplane tracking website, said Qatar Airways flights already had started to be affected.

He also announced $110 billion-worth of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Earlier in May Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud, the kingdom's defense minister talked of his country's efforts to take the battle inside Iran.

Qatar Airways did not respond immediately to a request for comment. The Saudi ports authority said Qatari-flagged shipping vessels are barred from docking.

The U.S. also has a huge base in Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command headquarters and the Navy's Fifth Fleet.

  • Zachary Reyes