DUBAI: A rise in tension between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in a row over military flights threatens U.S. strategic interests in the Gulf and could benefit regional rival Iran.
Abu Dhabi says Qatari air force jets intercepted two UAE civilian aircraft on commercial flights to Bahrain last month, and Doha says UAE military aircraft violated its airspace on Dec. 21 and Jan. 3.
Each denies the other’s accusations and the two energy-producing states have sought to ease the dispute. The risk of a confrontation between them has increased but a war between them is unlikely, regional experts say.
The increase in tension, seven months after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed travel and trade sanctions on Qatar over accusations — denied by Doha — that it supports terrorism and regional rival Iran, has alarmed Washington.
“When you have Qatari (military) planes being scrambled near a civilian airliner, it runs the risk of an incident that, even unplanned, could result in the loss of lives and escalate this into an situation Gulf countries have never had among each other,” said a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.