Saudi Arabia may block or restrict access to its air space for Qatari flag carrying aircraft if the countries’ diplomatic dispute escalates, a veteran military analyst has told Arabian Business.
The kingdom could reduce landing rights at its five international airports for Qatar Airways and force the airline to avoid Saudi air space during flights west, which would significantly affect the airline’s travel time, costing the publicly-owned carrier more in fuel and potential customers due to the inconvenience, director of research and consultancy at the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), Dr Theodore Karasik, said.
“It’s about the number of flights that Qatar Airways has at particular airports [and blocking it from] flying over [Saudi Arabia] means that they have to go around, which will cost them more in fuel and the level of convenience to go between the two countries drops,” Karasik said.
The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation also could revoke a newly approved license for Qatar Airways to launch a new domestic airline, Al Maha, in the kingdom.
“It could very well happen,” Karasik said.
However, the kingdom would “pick and choose” its tactics.
Aviation analysts declined to comment on the speculation.
Saudi Arabia already has reportedly threatened to block Qatar’s land and sea borders, which would have a devastating impact on the Gulf state’s ability to import goods, particularly food.
Karasik said the kingdom may also target Qatar via media campaigns, specifically targeting the country’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
The tactics are being considered following an unprecedented breakdown in relations between Qatar and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia over allegations Qatar is interfering in their internal affairs and its support of the conservative Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Earlier this month, the trio recalled their ambassadors from Doha and Saudi Arabia threatened additional action that would hit the Qatari economy unless it cut ties with the Brotherhood, closed down broadcaster Al Jazeera and suspended two US think tanks’ offices in Doha.
Karasik said the neighbours also were angry over Qatar’s growing closeness to traditional foe Iran, as well as Turkey, which also supports the Brotherhood.
“We’ve already seen Iran and Qatar become even closer in terms of a free zone and other types of economic agreements and also Qatar getting closer to Turkey, which supports the Brotherhood, so there’s a geo-political security shift ongoing within what was the GCC up until [recently],” Karasik said.
“They will take additional actions if Qatar’s behaviour does not change and Qatar is so far saying ‘we’re not going to play this game, we’re going to do what we intend to do because we have our view of the world and how we want to conduct our business and we’ll conduct our business the way we want to.”
Leaders of the four states are expected to meet and discuss the disagreement ahead of next week’s Arab League Summit in Kuwait.
The rift also is expected to be discussed during US president Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia later this month.
Neither Kuwait, which also hosts a significant Brotherhood presence, or Oman, which has preferred to sit on the sidelines of the GCC for some time, have publicly commented on the issue.