UAE-Qatar ties further deteriorate after airline interception

There is a strong belief in official circles that the latest antagonistic behaviour by Doha is an effort to keep attention on the crisis.
Sunday 21/01/2018
Emirati officials in front of an Emirates Airbus A380 in Dubai

London - Tensions between the United Arab Emirates and Qatar increased fol­lowing aircraft encoun­ters that led the UAE to lodge an official complaint with the United Nations.

The spat began with Qatar ac­cusing UAE military aircraft of violating its airspace on January 13, a charge Doha had also made against the UAE in December. Emirati officials dismissed the al­legations on both occasions.

“We are working on responding to that officially with proof and evidence,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on his official Twitter ac­count.

“We see this as an escalation and (it) is unjustified and what used to happen behind the scenes is now uncovered,” he added dismissing the finger-pointing by Doha.

UAE authorities on January 15 accused Qatar’s military of inter­cepting two Emirati passenger planes en route to Bahrain, further increasing tensions.

Saif al-Suwaidi, director-general of the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority, detailed the encounter in a statement, adding: “Moreo­ver, the crews and passengers saw the incidents with their naked eyes, which proves that the inter­ception posed a present and clear threat to the lives of innocent ci­vilians.”

Bahrain released radar im­ages showing the moment the Emariti passenger jets were in­tercepted. Doha still denied the events took place.

The UAE filed an official com­plaint with the United Nations over the incident, issuing a state­ment that said: “Qatar’s threat to the lives of civilians through its in­terception of two UAE aircraft on a routine flight to Bahrain via inter­nationally accredited airlines, and with all necessary approvals and permits.”

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar last June over what they described as Doha’s interference in their countries’ internal affairs and its support for radical groups, such as Hamas, the Taliban and the Mus­lim Brotherhood. The Qatari gov­ernment denied the allegations.

The Arab quartet imposed trade restrictions and ordered their citi­zens to leave Qatar, resulting in a slowdown in the country’s tour­ism, trade and banking sectors.

However, the issue with Qatar has appeared to fall down the pri­ority ladder with each member of the Arab quartet addressing domestic issues and, as far as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are concerned, the war in Yemen.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir in October labelled the dis­pute with Qatar as a “non-issue,” stressing that there were more ur­gent matters to focus on, a senti­ment echoed by UAE officials.

There is a strong belief in official circles that the latest antagonistic behaviour by Doha is an effort to keep attention on the crisis.

“Qatar created this crisis to force a reaction from the UAE, which brings the crisis back to the spotlight after it was forgotten,” a well-informed Gulf source said.

Doha recently said it would seek international arbitration to resolve the dispute. The Arab quartet has rejected previous such attempts, claiming the solution is in Qatar’s hands.

It appears Doha’s actions might be economically motivated. A re­port from US rating agency Stand­ard and Poor’s (S&P) stated that most banks in Gulf Cooperation Council countries — except for Qatar — would see their financial profiles stabilise in 2018.

“We think GCC banks’ profita­bility will stabilise at a lower level than historically, underpinned by an increased cost of risk and the introduction of value added tax, some of which banks will pass on to their clients,” S&P report said.

The report added about Qatar that “trends in asset quality will depend on how the boycott of the country evolves.”

5