Movement in the Middle East

Baerbock makes efforts in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to strengthen Germany’s withering position in the Middle East. Berlin’s influence in Yemen and Sudan is one of the issues.

RIYADH/DOHA/BERLIN (Own report) – With visits to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is seeking to consolidate Berlin’s withering influence in the Middle East. The region’s political balance of power has begun to shift considerably since Saudi Arabia and Iran have been reconciling their differences under China’s mediation – so far with success. The Saudi-Iranian reconciliation opens new opportunities for ending the war in Yemen, which is also being waged with German weapons. Berlin, on the other hand, has contributed nothing toward settling the conflict. Baerbock is also seeking influence in Sudan via Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has a promising mediator position between the two parties to the civil war, while Germany has no particular influence in that country. Today, in Doha, Baerbock will discuss not only liquid gas deliveries to Germany, but the situation in Syria as well. Most Arab countries are seeking normalization with President Bashar al Assad, only Qatar – like the West – would like to keep his country an outcast. Berlin is also hoping to obtain Qatari arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Hope in Yemen

The war in Yemen between the Houthi and the Saudi-supported Yemeni regime had already been on the agenda of Baerbock’s talks, yesterday, with her Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan in the Saudi port city, Jeddah. Baerbock will hold talks with Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak today. Already in late 2021, the United Nations calculated the war dead in Yemen at around 377,000, with 60 percent having died from indirect causes, such as hunger and preventable diseases.[1] Saudi Arabia, one of the main parties to the war, could rely on German weaponry, both for its military operations in Yemen and for enforcing its hunger blockade against the Houthis. ( reported.[2]) Meanwhile, hope is growing that the war may be drawing to its long-awaited end, due to the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, of which each was supporting one of the opposing sides in the war. On the other hand, the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement – which also seems to open the possibility for reconciliation in Yemen – was only made possible by Chinese mediation, against resistance from the West.[3] Berlin also did not support the rapprochement and détente.

War in Sudan

Another topic of discussion between Baerbock and Bin Farhan was the civil war in Sudan. The UN General Secretary’s Special Representative for Sudan and head of UNITAMS, the former Director of the SWP, Volker Perthes, has good connections in Berlin, however Germany has only little influence in Sudan. While the two parties to the civil war are each supported from various Arab countries – the regular Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) under Gen. Abdel Fattal al Burhan by the ruling military forces in Egypt, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo by the United Arab Emirates (UAE),[4] – Saudi Arabia is considered to have maintained roughly the same distance to both sides of the conflict, and is, therefore, a possible mediation candidate. Riyadh was able to organize the evacuation to Jeddah of around 8,000 people via the port city Port Sudan. In addition, it had held negotiations in Jeddah between the two sides of the civil war, which, as of May 6, several rules for the protection of civilians had been laid down.[5] Riyadh had conducted the negotiations together with Washington, which seeks to win back its dwindling influence in the region. Yesterday, Baerbock, for her part, was also seeking influence.

Normalization in Syria

Today, Baerbock will arrive in the Emirate, Qatar, for more talks, where developments in Syria are also on the agenda. In the Middle East, normalization of relations to Damascus are advancing, since the West-led attempts to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad proved a failure. Because, Saudi Arabia and Iran were each supporting rival factions also in Syria – Riyadh supported insurgent militias and Teheran the government – the efforts to normalize the situation in that country are also benefiting from the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. For the first time since the war began in 2011, a Saudi Foreign Minister, Bin Fahran, arrived in mid-April in Damascus for talks.[6] Following the elections in Turkey, rapprochement is also expected between Damascus and Ankara.[7] Moreover, the Arab League reinstated Syria as a full member on May 7. Syria’s membership had been suspended in 2011. Qatar, which had once supported Islamist – including jihadi – militias in Syria against Assad,[8] is one of the last remaining Arab states still refusing to normalize relations. This makes Doha one of the West’s last remaining regional allies against Assad.

Tanks and Gas

Cooperation with Doha is also of interest to Berlin for other reasons. In January 2022, the United States designated Qatar as one of its “major non-NATO allies.”[9] Qatar was one of only a handful of non-Western countries participating on April 26, 2022 at the weapons conference for Ukraine at the US Air Force Base Ramstein. Of course, the emirate was not willing to be registered on the official list of participants.[10] At the beginning of the year, the German government had sought to convince Doha to deliver its Gepard anti-aircraft tanks – or at least their munition – to Ukraine. Qatar had bought them to protect its Soccer World Cup from possible drone attacks. Officially the emirate has not yet taken a position. Baerbock may seek to increase the pressure in today’s talks.[11] However, Germany is primarily interested in acquiring liquefied gas from Qatar. In late November 2022, the emirate had agreed to supply Germany with up to two million tons of liquefied gas annually for 15 years, beginning in 2026. That is comparable to 2.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas and is hardly sufficient for Berlin. Germany’s overall consumption was 89 billion cubic meters in 2022.[12]

German Lectures

What remains uncertain is, the extent of the damage caused by Germany’s negative campaign against Qatar’s Soccer World Cup in late 2022, particularly, Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, demonstratively wearing her “One-Love” armband at the event.[13] Anger in Qatar – and not only there – about lectures from Germany was considerable. According to sources close to the government in Doha, the damage “has largely been repaired, primarily due to interventions from the chancellery.” However, there is still “a residual unease concerning German guests’ public appearances.”[14] It remains to be seen, whether Baerbock will lecture her host in Qatar, in a schoolmaster-like manner as she had recently done vis à vis China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang.


[1] Yemen war deaths will reach 377,000 by end of the year: UN. 23.11.2021.

[2] See also Die Schlacht um Al Hudaydah and Man schießt deutsch (II).

[3] See also The End of US Domination at the Persian Gulf (III).

[4] Giorgio Cafiero: Analysis: Saudia Arabia’s diplomatic energy, soft power in Sudan. 15.05.2023.

[5] Giorgio Cafiero: Analysis: UAE, Egypt closer to different sides in Sudan conflict. 28.04.2023.

[6] Saudi foreign minister visits Syria as relations thaw. 18.04.2023.

[7] See also Elections in Turkey.

[8] See also Das Ende einer Epoche (III).

[9] Michael D. Shear: Biden Designates Qatar as a Major Non-NATO Ally. 31.01.2022.

[10] Karen DeYoung, Annabelle Timsit: ‘Putin never imagined‘ global rally of Ukraine support, defense secretary says. 26.04.2023.

[11] Ukraine : les chars “tueurs de drones” bientôt à court des munitions à cause de la Suisse? 24.04.2023.

[12] Kathrin Witsch, Klaus Stratmann: Deutschlands Gas-Deal mit Katar deckt nur Bruchteil des LNG-Bedarfs ab. 29.11.2022.

[13] See also Werte im Systemwettstreit and Letter of Warning from Doha.

[14] Christoph Ehrhardt: Ein Treffen mit eigensinnigen Partnern. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 16.05.2023.