Businessman hoping to import the animals on 60 flights as country steps up efforts to circumvent blockade by its Gulf neighbours
A Qatari businessman is planning to airlift 4,000 Holstein dairy cows into the country as part of efforts to maintain milk supplies during the blockade by Qatar’s Gulf Arab neighbours.
The proposal – described as the biggest airlift of cattle ever attempted – comes as Qatar moves rapidly to open an air and sea bridge via Iran, Turkey and port facilities in Oman.
The plan to fly in the cows was disclosed by Moutaz Al Khayyat, chairman of Power International Holding, to the Bloomberg news agency. Khayyat said it would take as many as 60 flights to deliver the cattle, which were bought in Australia and the US. He had originally planned to import the cows by ship for a newly completed dairy facility near Doha.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic, economic and transport ties with Qatar on 5 June, accusing Doha of supporting extremist groups.
Until then, Qatar had imported most of its dairy products from neighbouring countries – including Saudi Arabia. Riyadh closed the Qatari peninsula’s only land border, threatening the import of both fresh food and raw materials needed to complete a $200bn infrastructure project for the 2022 football World Cup.
Turkey has replaced products that disappeared from supermarket shelves, including yoghurt and laban, while Morocco and Iran have pledged to supply the emirate with foodstuffs.
Qatar has negotiated new cargo handling arrangements in the Omani ports of Sohar and Salalah, avoiding the need for goods to stop in the UAE. Shipments of containers through the UAE port of Jebel Ali were frozen last week.
Qatar’s rapid moves to circumvent the worst effects of the week-old blockade come in the midst of escalating diplomatic efforts by the emirate to rally international support for its case. The country’s foreign minister has flown to Moscow, London and Germany in recent days.
At the beginning of the second week of the embargo, Qatar’s financial markets appeared to be stabilising, with shares prices bouncing back after falls last week.
Qatar has also appealed to international aviation authorities to rule as illegal the overflight ban imposed on Qatar Airways by its neighbours, and has briefed lawyers to challenge the flight and other restrictions in the courts.
On Sunday Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran announced it had sent five planes carrying produce to Qatar. Three ships carrying 350 tonnes of food were also set to leave Iran for the emirate.
The ostensible reason for the blockade – that the Qataris have funded terror – is as easily applicable to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Instead, the real motivation appears to be punishment for Qatar’s independent foreign policy, which is underwritten by an expansive and canny global investment strategy from London to Tokyo. The county has hosted members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and pursued a conciliatory relationship with Iran, with which it shares a large gas field.