- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2018

Middle Eastern press outlets are buzzing over a rumor that former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stopped a major military operation planned by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) against Qatar at the beginning of a regional crisis that erupted between key U.S. Gulf allies last year.

Senior U.S. officials dismiss the claims — broadcast by several outlets, including Qatar-based Al Jazeera and Iranian-affiliated Press TV — as “highly questionable.”

Still, the whispers represent the latest round in the nasty propaganda war which began in June 2017 when the tiny Arab Gulf state of Qatar faced an abrupt diplomatic and economic blackballing led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. The countries accused Doha of supporting “terrorists” and was too close to Shiite Muslim Iran, arguments which Qatar has repeatedly rejected.

The nastiness has cast a shadow over the Trump White House’s hopes for the region, with lobbyists on both sides jockeying to win over U.S. policymakers. The Saudis have cultivated Mr. Trump and his aides, but Qatar is home to the Al Udeid Air Base, a crucial Pentagon outpost in the region and home to some 10,000 American troops.

The Tillerson tale, which surfaced in August, was first reported by the investigative news website The Intercept, founded by journalist Glenn Greenwald.

According to U.S. intelligence community sources, just after the diplomatic crisis occurred, Saudi ground troops supported by the UAE planned to cross into Qatar and seize the capital of Doha, circumventing the Al Udeid Air Base.

Mr. Tillerson allegedly learned of the plot from Qatari intelligence officials and urged Saudi Arabia’s King Salman not to follow through. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman then backed down, fearing possible damage to the long-term Saudi-U.S. relationship.

Afterwards, the crown prince is said to have urged the White House to sack Mr. Tillerson. President Trump dismissed Mr. Tillerson from his post in March.

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