Bahrain radar shows Qatar jets near UAE planes; Doha denies
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain released radar tracks on Tuesday it said showed Qatari fighter jets passing by Emirati commercial airliners bound for the island nation, encounters which set off a new dispute pitting Qatar against the Gulf nations that have been boycotting it since last summer.
The two alleged fly-bys on Monday morning could further escalate tensions between Qatar and the four Arab nations, among them the UAE, home to the world’s busiest international airport. They also could affect long-haul airline travel, as the region’s carriers are a crucial link between the East and West.
Emirati officials on Monday described the fly-bys as though the fighter jets “intercepted” their civilian aircraft. Qatari officials deny their jets intercepted the aircraft and on Tuesday dismissed the footage as “unauthenticated videos.”
Bahrain state television aired radar footage it described as showing Emirates flight No. EK837 from Dubai flying toward Bahrain International Airport at 3,170 meters (10,400 feet). Two other radar signals described as Qatari fighter jets flew at around 2,590 meters (8,500 feet) and crossed briefly in front of the Emirates plane’s flight path. The screen briefly flashes orange text, likely a collision warning.
It wasn’t clear from the footage at what distance the fighter jets allegedly passed the Emirates flight, but Bahrain previously described the distance as being 3.2 kilometers (2 miles).
The broadcaster also aired footage of an aeronautical chart it said showed a Qatari fighter jet flying across the flight path of a just-passed Etihad airliner, both at 24,000 meters (8,000 feet). It identified the flight as ETD23B, which corresponds to Etihad flight No. EY371, a direct Abu Dhabi-Bahrain flight that took off Monday morning.
Dubai-based Emirates and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad have declined to comment. Both flights flew in international waters just north of the tip of Qatar, a peninsular nation that juts into the Persian Gulf, before landing in nearby Bahrain.
The UAE said it planned to file a complaint to the United Nations over what happened Monday.
Reached on Tuesday, Qatar’s Government Communication Office dismissed the Bahrain state television report as part of a “smear campaign” against it by the UAE. The UAE’s allegations follow two complaints by Qatar to the United Nations about Emirati military aircraft allegedly violating its airspace amid the diplomatic crisis. The UAE denies those allegations.
“These matter should be dealt with by filing a formal complaint to the U.N. Security Council, as Qatar has done following two breaches by UAE military aircraft of the state of Qatar’s airspace, and not by distributing unauthenticated videos to the media as how the blockading nations have done since the start of the crisis,” it said in a statement to The Associated Press.
At issue as well is language in the dispute. Intercepts normally refer to military jets flying alongside passenger planes and giving orders in emergencies. Military jets also don’t necessarily file flight plans, as required by commercial airlines.
However, military mistakes have caused tragedy in the Persian Gulf before. In July 1988, the USS Vincennes in the Strait of Hormuz mistook an Iran Air flight heading to Dubai for an attacking fighter jet, shooting down the plane and killing all 290 people onboard.
Qatar’s stock exchange dropped some 2.5 percent in trading Monday, one of its biggest jolts since the crisis began. On Tuesday, the market reversed the losses, closing up 2.58 percent.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut off Qatar’s land, sea and air routes on June 5 over its alleged support of extremists and close ties with Iran.
Qatar has long denied funding extremists, though it supports Islamist opposition movements that are considered terrorist groups by other countries in the region. It recently restored full diplomatic ties with Iran, with which it shares a massive offshore natural gas field.
On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani offered support for Qatar during a meeting with Ahmed al-Mahmoud, the speaker of Qatar’s emir-appointed advisory council.
“We believe any pressure on the government and nation of Qatar is unacceptable,” Rouhani said in a statement on the presidency’s website. “Iran is ready for any cooperation with the government and nation of Qatar and it will not allow Muslim people of the country to be under unfair pressure.”
Al-Mahmoud thanked Tehran for its support, saying it helped Doha stand “firm before hostility and plots.”
The diplomatic crisis has hurt Qatar Airways, Doha’s long-haul carrier that competes with Emirates and Etihad.
Qatar had complained to the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization about the boycotting nations cutting off its air routes, forcing the carrier to take longer flights through Iran and Turkey. Its regional feeder flights in Saudi Arabia and the UAE also have been cut off.
However, widening the Gulf dispute to include civilian aviation and airspace could hurt Emirati airlines already stung by President Donald Trump’s travel bans, as well as last year’s ban on laptops in airplane cabins, which has been lifted.
“I do think the tit-for-tat claims and the spillage into aviation risks tarnishing the reputation of the Gulf as a safe and secure location for the three global airlines that have made it their hub and a transit point for travelers,” said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
“With the Gulf airlines coming under pressure from even longer-range aircraft that are capable of bypassing their hubs altogether, it makes little sense to risk the reputation for comfort and security that the Gulf airlines have so assiduously built up,” he added.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.