The first development was a geopolitical earthquake. Saudi Arabia and Qatar were, until this week, the twin pillars of the Gulf Cooperation Council. As part of this alliance, they were both involved in an increasingly dirty war in Yemen, and also joint sponsors of the terrorist groups fighting the Syrian government (both countries provided ample logistical and financial support for ISIS and the former al-Qaeda in Syria, using both open and clandestine channels).
Qatar is the home of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), at a base that houses the 10,000 troops that coordinate American military action across the entire Middle East. Despite this, and while Saudi Arabia remains the U.S. key regional ally, Saudi Arabia decided to subject Qatar to a blockade (an act of war in international law). It backfired: Turkey send troops to Qatar to deter a potential Saudi invasion, while Iran is prepared to break the embargo and send food by sea.
Trump claimed (in tweets, naturally) that this had all been his idea, the fruits of his trip to the region. This provides a clue to the Saudis' motivation, as do the Turkish and Iranian responses. Trump--in his most Orwellian display on record--stood up in Riyadh during that trip to decry Iranian-state sponsored terrorism. (The historical record shows that 19 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi; none were Iranian. Osama Bin Laden was also Saudi, whose family continues to prosper through their control of the Kingdom's largest construction conglomerate, the never-renamed Saudi Bin Laden Group).
The attack on Qatar is a reaction to its attempts to forge an independent foreign policy, one that is open to listening to states that are not controlled by Saudi Arabia and the United States, namely Iran and (increasingly) Turkey. This was unacceptable to Saudi Arabia, which is determined to double down on its strategy of rolling back Iranian influence in the region.
That strategy hinges on Syria. However, recently both ISIS and the former al-Qaeda in Syria have suffered serious setbacks at the hands of the Syrian government. The Syrian army and its allies are prepared to advance (through al-Tanf or otherwise) to relieve Deir ez-Zor; this would put a crimp in the Saudi/U.S. plan to create a Sunni statelet in Eastern Syria that would deprive Syria of most oil revenue and prevent the construction of the Iran-Iraq-Syria natural gas pipeline, which was a key Qatari concern. However, Qatar seemed prepared to give up on the Syrian proxy war, and Saudi Arabia chose to punish it.
Saudi Arabia's violence towards Iran is much more serious. In the deadliest terrorist attack in Iran since 2010, attackers armed with grenades and suicide vests came very close to invading the debate chamber while Parliament was in session, which likely would have led to the deaths of a large number of Iran's elected assembly, and possibly its Speaker Ali Larijani. Nine victims were killed, while another died in a coordinate assault on the Mausoleum of the Ayatollah Khomeini. ISIS claimed responsibility, and those captured confessed they had been trained by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It is inconceivable that ISIS would stage such a high-profile attack without approval from its Saudi paymasters, although the Iranian government has been somewhat circumspect in not naming Saudi Arabia as a sponsor of this particular atrocity.
President Trump, however, chose to point the finger at Iran. In a stunning act of victim-blaming, he tweeted that ""states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote." This is the most recent iteration of his latest 'big lie' -- the absurd insinuation that Iran sponsors ISIS, a group that believes that Iranian Shi'ites are actually polytheist apostates that deserve death (a view they took from the version of Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia known as Wahhabism).
Trump is taking a page from President George W. Bush's playbook: by claiming that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was as sponsor of terrorism at every opportunity, Bush convinced a majority of Americans that Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The innuendo he intended to convey was false, but when pressed Bush said his statement was literally true: Iraq was a sponsor of terrorism against America's enemy Iran, as it gave refuge to the People's Mojehedin of Iran --a terrorist group that assassinated Iran's Chief Justice, President and Prime Minister along with seventy-three other Iranian government officials in its 1981 bombing campaign. This came a year after the American government was humiliated in a failed Delta Force raid against Iran.
The American forces that invaded Eastern Syria are not there to fight ISIS, or at least that is not the principle aim, as General Mattis and others have admitted. The American-led forces based in Jordan have bombed two Syrian Government-allied convoys headed towards al-Tanf because they are determined to prevent a link-up between the Iraqi Army and the Syrian Army (which as of today has seemingly failed, as Syrian forces outflanked the coalition and its proxy army northeast of al-Tanf). This is allegedly because it would allow Iran to supply weapons to Hezbollah, something it can already do easily by sea.
America's hidden aim is to balkanize Syria and to ultimately bring down the Assad government. This is now going to be a very tall order, as the Syrian Army is winning on the ground, and Iran and Turkey are winning diplomatic skirmishes with the United States, most particularly at the Astana peace talks. The only path open to the United States is through a serious escalation, likely in the form of all-out air strike against the Syrian Government, which given the Russian military presence in the country would risk setting off World War III, with international law firmly on the Russian side.
Trump, as his tweets about Qatar and Iran demonstrate, is precisely the person to take this gamble. This is made considerably more likely every day that the "Russiagate" allegations linger. The media campaign against Trump is also fueled by innuendo: Comey's testimony revealed that all of the evidence of Russian involvement in the presidential election came from a partisan source, the private security company CrowdStrike -- as the Democratic National Committee refused to allow the FBI to access their servers. Comey also revealed--when asked--that President Trump is not and has never been the target of any FBI investigation. As Trump ultimately threw Michael Flynn under the bus, the investigation will likely end with his prosecution, but the whispering campaign will not.
More than any other politician, Trump understands how the media works. He knows that the constant drumbeat of claims that he colluded with the Russians in hacking the election is devastating his presidency. The easiest way to show that he is not in bed with the Russians is to attack them, as he is being goaded to do by America's foreign policy establishment. Hillary Clinton consistently called for a no-fly zone over Syria (and regime change) even after the generals told her it would lead directly to war with Russia. As what the neoconservative foreign policy establishment wants is now aligning with Trump's interest in saving face, the nuclear clock is again moving towards midnight.