The 2017 Gulf Blockade is over, with Qatar Airways a huge beneficiary of this diplomatic breakthrough.
Gulf Blockade Over, A Win For Qatar Airways
Raising alarm over an increasingly cozy relationship between Qatar and Iran, several Gulf nations enacted a blockade against Qatar in 2017. Not only did that freeze diplomatic relations, but it halted cross-border traffic, adversely impacting Qatari flag carrier Qatar Airways. The blockade restricted not only landing rights, but the use of airspace, forcing Qatar Airways flights to take far more circuitous routings than had historically been necessary even to destinations outside the blockade.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia announced that it was ending its long-running blockade against Qatar. Hours later, it became other nations would join in as well. In a signing ceremony in Al-Ula, Saudi Arbaia, leaders from nations including Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates convened to make the new official.
— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) January 5, 2021
Under the terms of the so-called Al-Ula Agreement, the airspace, land and sea border will re-open. Although ostensibly immediate in effect, it is unclear when Qatar Airways might resume service to Dubai, Jeddah, and other popular Gulf destinations.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman offered scant details, but noted:
“We consider with great thanks and appreciation the efforts to heal the rift.
“We also commend, in this regard, the friendly endeavors of the United States of America, and all the parties that have contributed.”
While Kuwait was the main driver of the peace initiative, the outgoing White House also played a role. At the same time, it was the same White House which tacitly approved the blockade in the first place in order to exert additional pressure against Iran.
Qatar Airways stands to emerge as a big winner from the lifting of the Gulf Blockade. Expect shorter flights times and a resumption of service to Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in the weeks ahead.