Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 November 2020

Qatar’s foreign policy actions contradict its ambitions to acquire F-35s

Qatar is bitterly opposed to the Trump administration’s peace initiative and has formed a rejectionist alliance with Turkey and Iran

Israeli has F35 aircraft. Reuters
Israeli has F35 aircraft. Reuters

Qatar’s hopes of a deal with the US to buy F-35 stealth fighter jets stand little chance of success as long as Doha remains one of the main sponsors of terrorist groups.

Suggestions that Qatar is keen to join other Gulf states in acquiring the fighters follow a report this month by Reuters that Doha has submitted a formal request to Washington to but the aircraft.

Although there has been no official confirmation of the request from the US or Qatar, the report said sources confirmed the Qatari approach to acquire the Lockheed Martin jets.

In August, Washington agreed to consider giving the UAE approval to buy the F-35, one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets.

The offer, though, was made in the context of the UAE's work towards stabilising the region, which included its decision to sign the Abraham Accord last month to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.

US President Donald Trump declared that he had “no problem" with selling the jets to the Emirates.

But Qatar is bitterly opposed to the Trump administration’s peace initiative, and has now formed a rejectionist alliance with other countries critical of the accord, such as Turkey and Iran.

Qatar also funds terrorist organisations such as Hamas, the Palestinian group that is committed to the destruction of Israel.

Consequently, Washington is likely to take a dim view of Qatar’s ambition to buy the F-35s, given that many of the policies being pursued by Doha undermine American attempts to resolve tension in the region.

On one level, Qatar has a significant relationship with Washington through Al Udeid air base, which was the US military’s principal command centre during the military campaign to defeat ISIS.

There are about 8,000 American military personnel based in Qatar.

Yet its support for a range of terrorist groups and its close ties with Iran and Turkey has created tension with Washington, especially its support for Hamas at a time when the Trump administration is seeking to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Nor is it just Qatar’s hostility to Israel that is a source of friction with Washington.

Qatar has a long history of association with terrorist groups, dating back more than two decades.

The Qataris were accused of supporting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the September 11 attacks against the US in 2001.

The state has since funded a wide collection of militant groups, including the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar’s long-standing support for the Brotherhood has resulted in a close alliance with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another committed supporter of the organisation.

This has led to Qatar hosting a large Turkish military base on its territory, a demonstration of the close diplomatic engagement between the two countries.

Doha’s close association with the likes of Turkey and Iran makes it extremely unlikely that Congress, which is the final arbiter of controversial US arms sales, would approve its purchase of F-35s.

The Trump administration has already demonstrated the political sensitivities surrounding the F-35 programme when it suspended a deal to supply Turkey with the aircraft after Ankara negotiated an arms deal with Moscow.

And the prospects of Qatar acquiring the fighter will remain extremely limited as long as Israel, Washington’s closest military ally in the Middle East, says it will oppose the sale if Doha continues to engage with Tehran and Ankara, and maintain its support for terrorist groups such as Hamas.

Israel has already integrated the F-35 into its air force.

The fighter is understood to have taken part in Israeli military operations against Iranian-backed forces in Syria and Iraq, when the air force used it to destroy an Iranian missile production facility in southern Iraq last year.

The prospect of sharing the F-35’s sensitive stealth technology with a country that openly supports nations and terrorist organisations hostile to Israel is clearly anathema to the Israeli government.

A fundamental principle of the relationship between Israel and the US is to preserve Israel’s “qualitative military edge”.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen has made it clear that selling the warplanes might compromise that military advantage.

Asked whether Israel would oppose an F-35 sale to Qatar, Mr Cohen told Israeli Army Radio: “The answer is yes.

"Our security and military superiority in the region are the most significant things for us. Our region has still not turned into Switzerland."

Updated: October 21, 2020 01:23 AM

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