Qatari forces participated in joint military exercises that ended in Saudi Arabia this week in an apparent sign of some compromise among U.S.-allied Arab states locked in a nearly yearlong dispute. According to the ministry, it was the first time Qatar has taken part in military drills alongside Saudi Arabia since the latter cut ties with Doha last summer.
Qatari Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Ghanem bin Shaheen al- Ghanem was present on Monday at a closing ceremony, attended by Saudi King Salman and other heads of state, for the Gulf Shield drills, the Qatari Armed Forces said in a statement.
"Lieutenant-General Ghanem bin Shaheen al-Ghanem, chief-of-staff of the Qatari armed forces, attended the final day of the drills [on Monday] at the invitation of Saudi counterpart Fayyad bin Hamed al-Ruwayli," the ministry tweeted, as reported by Anadolu Agency (AA). Al-Ghanem is the highest-ranking Qatari military official to visit the Saudi kingdom since last June.
Qatar did not send a senior representative to an Arab League summit in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran on Sunday that was attended by heads of state and government, and the dispute was not discussed at the gathering.
The Qatari military statement did not provide details about the size of the Qatari contingent that took part in the Gulf Shield exercises that ran from March 21 to April 16. An official from one of the 23 participating countries said Qatar sent one ship with nine officers to join the drills and had seven other officers observing.
According to the Saudi Press Agency, the Gulf Shield exercise is the largest of its kind in the region both in terms of troop numbers and participating countries.
The month-long military exercise involved tens of thousands of military personnel from 24 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt and Malaysia.
The final day of the drills on Monday was attended by many Arab leaders who had taken part one day earlier in an Arab Summit in the Saudi city of Dammam.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar last June, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies that charge and says the boycott is an attempt to impinge on its sovereignty.
The United States, which has military bases in both Qatar and some of the countries lined up against it, is trying to mediate the feud. Washington said in October it was scaling back involvement in some joint military drills in the region following the rift. But a senior U.S. administration official told reporters last month that the countries had agreed to resume participation in military exercises without providing any details. U.S. President Donald Trump publicly sided with the Saudis and Emiratis early in the crisis but is now pushing for a resolution to restore Gulf unity and maintain a united front against Iran.