Qatar Businessman to Beat Gulf Blockade by Airlifting 4,000 Cows

A cow at a dairy organic farm in Plesse, western France. A Qatari businessman is to airlift 4,000 to the Gulf state amid a blockade by rival Sunni countries. Loic Venance/AFP/Getty

Pigs might fly, but for one Qatari businessman, so will cows. Entrepreneur Moutaz Al Khayyat will airlift a herd of four thousand to the Gulf state on around 60 flights to get around a regional blockade in place because of an ongoing row with Sunni states.

On June 5, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremist groups, such as Palestinian militant group Hamas, and Shia regional power Iran. Qatar denies the accusations. The country shares a land border with Saudi Arabia, and more than half of its food comes from its neighbor, as well as most of its milk.

Because of the threat the blockade poses to Qatar's milk, Khayyat, chairman of Power International Holding, is taking matters into his own hands.

"This is the time to work for Qatar," he told Bloomberg of his plan to airlift the dairy aid package. Transporting the cows could take as many as 60 Qatar Airways flights from the U.S. and Australia, where he bought the cows.

Khayyat said he had already made plans to bring the cows to Qatar by sea but the Gulf rift made him accelerate the move. His company's production of fresh milk at a farm north of Doha will now begin at the end of June, as opposed to September as originally scheduled.

Qatar, a tiny, oil-rich Gulf nation, is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but the embargo by its neighbors and fellow Sunni states has forced it to look elsewhere for revenue streams and transport links.

A Qatari government employee, speaking to Bloomberg in the capital, Doha, lauded the cow airlift as showing Qatar can finds ways to survive on its own. "It's a message of defiance, that we don't need others," Umm Issa, 40, said. "Our government has made sure we have no shortages and we are grateful for that. We have no fear. No one will die of hunger."

Read more: U.S. suspects Russian hackers planted fake Qatar story behind Gulf rift

Qatar's allies, Iran and Turkey, have helped the country in actions and rhetoric. Both have delivered food supplies to the country and Turkey has agreed to deploy troops. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed the isolation of Qatar as "inhumane" and "un-Islamic" on Monday. Iran has opened its airspace to Qatari flights after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE all closed off inbound flights from the country.

Iran is a Shia-led country that rivals Saudi Arabia for regional influence. Qatar's close relationship with the Islamic Republic is one of the factors believed to be behind the rift.