While conflict with Israel gets the most press in the U.S., the primary conflict in the Mideast is between Saudi Arabia (along with Turkey) seeking Sunni influence in the region and working to counter Shia Iran. The conflict in Syria, for instance, is largely a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis have fought Iran-backed rebels in Yemen over the past several years.
Qatar hosts a major US military installation, but has also been accused of supporting terrorism. Saudi Arabia, of course, fits that same description. Tensions between Qatar and other regional powers especially Saudi Arabia are hardly new. While Shia Islam is a minority in Qatar, it’s hardly an oppressed minority. Saudi Arabia was emboldened after the U.S. President’s visit there in May.
Comments were recently broadcast by Qatar state media suggesting that Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was in support of Iran and Hezbollah (and suggesting that Donald Trump wouldn’t remain in power long). These comments were the predicate for the effective blockade against Qatar by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the region. It turns out US intelligence agencies believe these broadcasts were the result of UAE hacking.
Museum of Islamic Art, Doha
Flights in and out of Qatar have become more difficult. Airlines like Etihad, Emirates, and Gulf Air stopped flying to Doha. And the severing of relations has created limits on Qatari-registered aircraft flying through the airspace of some of the countries involved.
Qatar does not have its own flight information region, it’s within the Bahrain region. The Doha terminal control area is from ground to 24,500 feet, and above 24,500 feet is the Bahrain Upper Information Region. Traffic is re-routing primarily via Iran. There are only two routes for air traffic in and out of Qatar.
Hamad International Airport, Doha
Bahrain likely can’t legally bar Qatar aircraft from this airspace. And if they could, they likely couldn’t or wouldn’t enforce a no fly area through the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Iran although the lack of service provision would present technical challenges.
Nonetheless, the effect of closed airspace on Qatar Airways flights can be illustrating by flight QR943 from Singapore to Doha. Here’s the routing for that flight into Doha before the blockade.
And here’s the routing for that flight after:
In fact you can see Qatar flights lining up to avoid restricted airspace.
In advance of today’s International Civil Aviation Organization council meeting, Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced they opened up additional emergency routes for Qatari planes.
The Emirati foreign ministry said the emergency routes include overseas areas managed by the UAE and one over the Mediterranean, managed by Egypt.
Qatar says this isn’t true.
In a statement citing its Ministry of Transport and Communications and the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority, it said no navigation announcements have been released outlining the new corridors.
The underlying issues between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors remain. And while the U.S. would normally be a countervailing force holding these powers in check, the President’s public statements of support or Saudi Arabia and critical of Qatar have undermined the Secretary of State’s efforts to bring about a rapprochement.