Talk to Al Jazeera

Sigmar Gabriel: MBS ‘overestimated his position in the region’

Germany’s former foreign minister discusses the GCC crisis, the Khashoggi case and Europe’s role in a changing world.

Sigmar Gabriel, who served Germany as vice chancellor, and more recently as foreign minister, has been very outspoken about the issue of German soldiers in Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the GCC crisis

In addition to his strong views on the Middle East, the German politician is no less opinionated when it comes to Europe, Russia, the United States and even NATO.

In June 2017, Gabriel was quoted as saying that a boycott of Qatar was particularly dangerous and the dispute between Qatar and other Arab states could lead to war. A year and a half onwards, UAE state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, dismissed Gabriel’s statements at the Doha Forum about how the region was not far from military intervention, as not accurate.


by ”Sigmar

overestimated his position in the region … Maybe he had a feeling that whatever he is doing he is backed by the White House.”]

“I know in what situation we were in those days and I think everybody should be happy that there was no further escalation,” Gabriel tells Al Jazeera.

“I don’t know if they had real plans [to invade Qatar] but our experience is that, step by step during an escalation of a conflict, that at the end it could end in military conflict and our US colleagues had the same feeling. Nevertheless, it’s obvious that it was dangerous and we succeeded with all our partners, with Qatar as well as with the Emirates and the Saudis, to de-escalate.”

According to Gabriel, back then some “partners in the region thought that they had something like a blank cheque … to do whatever they wanted.”

Asked about the role of the US during the GCC crisis and whether the Trump-led White House’s approach to the region has fanned the flames of division at times, he says: 

“If a country like Luxembourg or Malta would send different signals between the prime minister and the foreign minister, it would be a bit inconvenient but it would not be dangerous. If a superpower like the US is sending different signals from the White House and the Foreign Ministry, it can create very dangerous misconceptions. And my feeling at that time was that there were misconceptions because of the two different messages coming from the US. And it was not only my feeling.”

Commenting on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul in October, Gabriel says that “the killing of Mr Khashoggi is a catastrophe, but for the family and the relatives it’s a very bad situation that they are not even able to bury the body and to have a place where they can go to. So for me it’s not only a political question. It’s also a question of humanity.”

He believes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, “overestimated his position in the region … Maybe he had a feeling that whatever he is doing he is backed by the White House … it shows that they have the feeling that there are no rules they have to follow and that’s dangerous.”

According to Gabriel, “in Europe, everybody thinks that there is a certain kind of responsibility [of MBS for the killing of Khashoggi]. I don’t know if it’s personal order or people thought that it could be his wish. It’s an open discussion in Europe.”

Since Donald Trump was elected president of the US, concerns have been raised about whether a Trump-led US is still the same reliable guarantor of European security that it’s been since the end of World War II.

And while Gabriel agrees that the world – and the US – is changing, he says that “America changed before Trump … It was Barack Obama who said that … America is a Pacific nation. All presidents before said America is a trans-Atlantic nation. So, America is looking much more to the Pacific region, of course, to China.”

“Hopefully, the United States will not be as it is today with Mr Trump as president but I think it will never be the same it was before, because the world is changing. We are entering maybe a G2 world between China and US as the two anti-poles. And the question is what kind of role Europe wants to play.”

The German politician believes that Europe should step up in international affairs and certain areas such as security and defence, but says that “there are two lessons in Germany after two world wars: First is never again and then never alone … and I would say whatever defence strategies or geostrategic ideas we can develop, it should be always a European idea. Germany should be always a part of European ideas and European strategies, never alone.

“Germany is the biggest economy. We have more than 80 million citizens so everybody asks us to lead. But in Europe – and that’s maybe the difference to other parts of the world – the bigger countries do not have more rights than the smaller ones.”