Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1377, ( 18 - 24 January 2018)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1377, ( 18 - 24 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Gulf dispute gets airborne

Allegations about the military interception by Qatar of civilian airplanes have heightened tensions in the Gulf, writes Haitham Nouri

Gulf dispute gets airborne
Gulf dispute gets airborne

In the latest development in the over six-month-long Gulf dispute, the UAE’s civil aviation authority announced Monday that Qatari military aircraft had intercepted, for a second time, a civilian passenger plane in Bahraini airspace. 

The Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lulwah Al-Khater denied the allegation, describing the authority’s statement as “totally devoid of truth”. She noted that her government would release a separate statement on the incident.

Civil aviation authorities in Bahrain said Monday that they had observed the interception by two Qatari fighter jets coming from Qatari airspace of UAE flight EK837, a Boeing 777, coming from Dubai. They added that they had monitored a similar incident involving Ettihad flight EY23B coming from Abu Dhabi. According to the statement by the Bahraini civil aviation authorities, Bahrain will submit a detailed report on the incident to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). 

The civil aviation authority in the UAE stated: “This incident is a dangerous and a repeated violation of international agreements and the safe movement of civil aircraft. The authorities are studying the legal options available with ICAO and other relevant organisations.”

Several days before this incident, Qatar lodged a complaint with UN Secretary General António Guterres and the UN Security Council President, Kazakhstan’s Ambassador Kairat Umarov, regarding an alleged violation of its airspace by an Emirati military aircraft. The complaint, which was delivered by Qatar’s Ambassador to the UN Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, said that the aircraft flew over a commercial district in Qatar “at an altitude of around 33,000 feet for one minute”. She stressed that the Emirati plane had entered Qatari airspace without the knowledge or approval of the authorities in her country. “In the event of a repetition of such a violation, Qatar, to protect its sovereign rights, will take all necessary measures to defend its borders, air space and national security in accordance with international laws and regulations.”

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash described the Qatari complaint as “untrue and confused”. He added, via his Twitter account, “We are working on responding to this, officially, using evidence and proof of what we see as an unwarranted escalation… What used to happen under the table is now taking place in broad daylight.”

In a related development, the UAE has denied reports circulated by Qatari media that Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al-Thani has been prevented from leaving the UAE. Abu Dhabi stressed that the Qatari royal is free to move and travel as he wants. 

The Qatari Foreign Ministry said that it was closely monitoring the situation related to a video circulated by some media outlets and in which, apparently, Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al-Thani appears saying that he was “a prisoner” in Abu Dhabi. In the recording he also says, “I’m afraid something unpleasant will happen to me and they’ll cast the blame on Qatar… I’m currently in Abu Dhabi. I was a guest with [Abu Dhabi Crown Prince] Al-Sheikh Mohamed [Bin Zayed Al Nahyan]… Now, I’m no longer in the position of guest but rather in the position of detainee.” 

He stressed that the Abu Dhabi crown prince was to blame if anything untoward happened.

In August, in Jeddah, Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman met with Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al-Thani, who presented himself as a mediator on behalf of his government to ask the Saudis to open the Salwa Border Crossing so that Qataris could enter Saudi Arabia in order to perform the pilgrimage. This was the first publicised Saudi reception of a Qatari mediator since the two countries severed relations. Doha, at the time, said that Abdullah bin Ali had not been acting on instructions from the Qatari government.

Sheikh Abdullah is the grandson of the third Qatari ruler, Abdullah bin Jassem, and the brother of Sheikh Ahmed, who was overthrown by Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the current Qatari emir.

Saudi and UAE media had tried to promote Sheikh Abdullah as an alternative to Tamim bin Hamad when the crisis erupted between Doha and the Arab quartet (Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Manama) that severed diplomatic relations and imposed economic sanctions on Qatar on 5 June 2017 on the grounds that it supports extremist groups. Doha denies the allegations. 

Escalating tensions in the Gulf could drive the Gulf region — the world’s largest source of fossil fuels — towards a precarious brink, even though there are no signs, as yet, of an eruption of hostilities. Neither are there signs of an imminent solution to the crisis that the Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed described as “ephemeral, no matter how long it lasts”.

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