This is not a storm in a teacup. Qatar has supported Saudi Arabia in its proxy war against Iran in Yemen and has been part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – which also includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – since it was founded in 1981. But its joint ownership of the world’s largest gas field means it has closer ties with Iran than its Arab neighbours.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to up the ante in its long-simmering dispute with Qatar is a high-risk strategy. Although all sides are scrambling to defuse the crisis, there is a relatively low but nonetheless real risk that the rift with Qatar will spiral out of control. Airspace could be a trigger point. The geographical distances involved are tiny – Qatar’s capital Doha is just 100 km from the Saudi border, while Bahrain’s capital Manama is just 140 km from Doha. The UAE and Iran are separated by less than 80 km at their nearest point. Flights from Qatar have to pass over Bahrain’s airspace. Iran has responded to the crisis by sending food shipments by air and sea to Qatar and by opening its airspace to 100 new Qatari flights per day.
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