As Qatar Blockade Enters 4th Year, US Intervenes to Lift Air Ban
The diplomatic feud between Qatar and its neighbours has entered into its fourth year today. Despite repeated attempts by the common allies of the Gulf nations involved in the feud, the Qatar blockade remains in place. As a fresh attempt, the United States is pushing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to end the ban on Qatari airlines using their airspace.
On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed political, trade and transport ties with Qatar, imposing a land, air and sea blockade. The Gulf nations accused Qatar of “supporting terrorism”, a charge that Qatar has repeatedly and strictly denied.
A dispute between the polities of different countries doesn’t only affect the economy of the country, but also leaves a major impact on the citizens. The Qatar blockade disrupted the lives of millions of people for whom meeting their friends and families living in Qatar or other blockade-imposed countries became impossible overnight. The embargo made it difficult for migrant workers to travel to and from Doha.
The Qatar blockade complicated the US President, Donald Trump’s strategy for the Middle East, since the airspace restrictions have forced Qatari airlines to use Iranian airspace as their only path out of the region. In particular, the US is concerned over Qatar paying the “overfly fees” to Iran to use its airspace.
“There is a greater sense of urgency to resolve the airspace issue,” said one of the US officials. “It’s an ongoing irritation for us that money goes into Iran’s coffers due to Qatar Airways overflights.”
The conflict between the US and Iran is also one of the reasons for the former not wanting Qatar to use Iranian airspace. Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, which hosts the largest US base in the region, is home to thousands of US soldiers, who often take commercial flights from Qatar and have to fly over Iran’s airspace.
In an attempt to resolve the three-year-old diplomatic feud and establish regional peace, President Trump has personally appealed to Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to end the air ban on Qatar. However, Saudi Arabia considers the airspace as the most crucial and strongest negotiating point. Hence, the kingdom has been reluctant to open the airspace.
A person familiar with the issue told the Wall Street Journal that “Qatar only wants one thing: open sky, to be able to fly over. But if the Saudis give up flyover, there is nothing else Qatar wants. It is the Saudis’ only leverage.”
Qatar, on the other hand, has raised the issue in a series of cases to the United Nations, but the country has also indicated that the cases could be dropped if the Qatar blockade issue is resolved. The cases raised by the Gulf nation pose a serious economic threat to the blockading nations as they would be forced to pay heavy fines for isolating Qatar. At a time when the Middle East region is already facing economic hardships due to the falling oil prices and the ongoing pandemic, oil-rich countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia might not be able to afford a hefty fine.
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