In June 2017 the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar. Emirates, Etihad Airways and flydubai stopped flying to Doha. Qatar Airways was banned from flying to these countries. And since Qatar doesn’t control its own airspace they were locked in except for using a narrow corridor of Iranian airspace.
The blockade was supposed to stop Qatar’s support for Iranian terror, but forced Qatar closer to Iran via paying over $100 million a year in additional overflight fees and greater reliance on Tehran. The blockading countries also demanded Qatar shut down Al Jazeera, whose news they felt risked the stability of rule in their countries.
The International Court of Justice ruled over the summer that the air blockade was illegal. The U.S. has been pushing for a resolution (though perhaps the UAE and Saudi Arabia were initially emboldened by the U.S. administration in power).
The blockade was lifted Tuesday, and in a step for regional peace the very first Qatar Airways flight – QR1365 from Doha to Johannesburg – took off, and the Airbus A350-900 flew through Saudi airspace, and successfully and peacefully cleared it.
Screen Shot, Credit: FlightRadar24
As with the resumption of relations and flights between Israel and the U.A.E., it’s a step to celebrate as one arena in which regional tensions have relaxed.
This evening #QatarAirways began to reroute some flights through Saudi airspace with the first scheduled flight expected to be QR 1365, Doha to Johannesburg at 20.45 this evening, 7 January. pic.twitter.com/wmU7Qq6Mwd
— Qatar Airways (@qatarairways) January 7, 2021
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.