In a new escalation of the Gulf crisis, Qatar announced last Thursday that it had informed the UN Security Council of a violation of its airspace by four Bahraini fighter jets.
According to the official Qatar News Agency, a letter was sent to UN officials by Ambassador Alia Ahmed bin Saif Al Thani, the Qatari permanent representative to the UN, including an official notification from Doha that four Bahraini military aircraft had penetrated Qatar's airspace over territorial waters on Dec. 9.
It expressed Qatar's strong condemnation of this violation of its sovereignty, territorial integrity and security.
But Jaber Al-Harami, a Qatari political analyst, told Anadolu Agency that this is not the first incident of its kind.
“These provocations are not the first. Bahrain, backed by the UAE, has previously made up some issues to prevent any reconciliation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, especially when they already reached a common belief that the dispute should be resolved,” he said.
Weeks back, the Qatari Interior Ministry announced the arrest of the crew of a Bahraini fishing vessel for violating its territorial waters.
"As part of its usual activities of monitoring and protecting Qatari territorial waters, security units stopped a Bahraini fishing vessel that penetrated Qatari waters by 1.3 nautical miles," it said.
Bahrain rejects claim
Bahrain rejected Qatar's claim, describing it as “irresponsible and baseless.”
Its Foreign Ministry said in a statement that two Bahraini F-16s together with two from the US were on a military drill in the designated military exercise area in Saudi Arabia’s airspace. After the exercises ended, the planes headed back to Bahrain, crossing over Saudi Arabia to land at Isa Air Base.
“The ministry affirms that this is the usual exit route from the military drill area towards the airspace of the Kingdom of Bahrain and that on their way back, the aircraft have not used Qatari airspace, as the Royal Bahraini Air Force fighters always perform their sorties in a professional manner, making sure not to penetrate the borders of other countries,” it noted.
Reconciliation still at hand
Saudi Arabia meanwhile has sent an official invitation to top officials of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to attend the body’s 41st summit on Jan. 5, 2021.
The summit is due to take place in the capital Riyadh with hopes that it could witness an agreement to end a diplomatic crisis between the GCC countries since mid-2017.
"Holding the 41st summit in light of the exceptional circumstances the world is going through is clear evidence of the great importance that the leaders of the GCC states attach to deepening interdependence, cooperation and integration among member states and creating new horizons for the Gulf citizen in the long term," GCC Secretary General Nayef Al-Hajraf said in a statement.
However, the latest Qatari-Bahraini tensions may influence the outcome of the awaited summit as the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt seem not enthusiastic to correspond to efforts led by Kuwait.
“Qatar refused to negotiate with other countries, and negotiations were only limited to the Saudi side, which represents the others, and what is agreed upon with Saudi Arabia will apply to the rest,” said Al-Harami.
Observers believe that the issue of penetrating Qatar's airspace was a delibrate move by Bahrain to test Qatar’s limits in the negotiations and as it is trying to gain any maritime priveleges from Qatar.
“Since Qatar and Saudi Arabia have reached advanced political understandings on a number of issues, I do not think the provocations by the Bahraini regime will affect the course of reconciliation between the two countries,” he added.
Earlier, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani confirmed in a press statement that there were no obstacles at the political level towards settling the diplomatic dispute but emphasized the importance of respect of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha and imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the country over allegations of supporting terrorism and meddling in their internal affairs. Qatar denied the charges and called for a dialogue to end the disputes.