The Cable

Al Jazeera Media Network Hit by Massive Hack

Is this the latest in a series of unfortunate events in Gulf state relations?

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Al Jazeera Media Network was the victim of a cyber attack on all of its systems, websites, and social media platform, the network announced on Tuesday.

The entire system, based in Doha, was, according to Al Jazeera, threatened by “continual hacking attempts.”

The attack comes just days after a handful of Muslim-majority countries cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar after Saudi Arabia announced its intention to do so. One pressure point for longstanding tension between Qatar and its neighbors? Al Jazeera, a Qatari media network often critical of Saudi and Egyptian authorities.

And Qatar (backed by U.S. media citing FBI officials) claims that the whole mess began after a hack of a Qatari news agency to plant what Doha called a fake story about the Qatari leader’s views on Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Israel. (Oddly, what he is purported to have said is pretty much what Qatar has long held as policy.)

The Al Jazeera hack, if related, is but the latest in a series of events that have cascaded in short order since Monday’s announcement. Turkey announced it would speed up the process of amending legislation relevant to the deployment of Turkish troops to Qatar. President Donald Trump sent out a series of tweets siding with the Saudis (and in fact implying that he was the catalyst for the diplomatic decision), and saying the move was critical to fighting terrorism and extremist funding.

The big complication is that Qatar is host to the biggest U.S. airbase in the region, the launchpad for many of the airstrikes in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. The diplomatic dustup has raised some concerns that U.S. use of the key facility could be imperilled.

To be fair, some are speculating the U.S. president “may not have known” the United States has troops in Qatar.

This is in sharp contrast to statements made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, both in public and, according to the New York Times, to the Qataris. Both Mattis and Tillerson reportedly stressed that a rift between Saudis and Qataris would not be conducive to fighting the Islamic State or terrorism more generally. If Thursday’s cyber attack is related, however, that rift may be getting wider still.

Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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