The Israeli government has opposed Qatar’s purchase of the US warplanes, while the UAE has struck a deal for the fighter-jets.
The US envoy for Arabian Peninsula Affairs said on Monday that Washington is looking into Doha’s requests to purchase F-35 fighter jets and drones given its position as an “exceptional” partner.
“We’re looking closely into these requests. What I can say is that Qatar has proven that it is an exceptional partner in defense issues such as the expansion of the Al Udeid Air Base, Afghanistan and many others,” Daniel Benaim, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Peninsula Affairs in the Near East Bureau at the US Department of State, told Alhurra TV.
Benaim added that Qatar “deserves full consideration of its requests” as Washington’s “exceptional partner”, while also noting that there are no updates regarding the sales at the moment.
Qatar had reportedly submitted a formal request to the US to buy the jets from American aerospace and weapons manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Co, in October last year.
The Gulf state’s request followed an August deal between the US and the UAE to purchase the stealth fighter jets.
Reuters reported on Monday that Washington intends to move forward with the sale of 50 F-35’s, while saying that there should be an understanding of “Emirati obligations” given concerns over Abu Dhabi’s relationship with China.
If approved, the UAE would be the first Gulf state to possess the warplanes. The US has sold the jets to some of its allies, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan and Israel.
Although requests to obtain the American jets must be approved by the US government, Israel has a big say.
This is mainly due to decades-old US-Israeli policies, restricting arms and weaponry deals in the Middle East to maintain Tel-Aviv’s military advantage in the region—ultimately ensuring that it can continue illegally occupying land without any threat.
Former Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said last year that Tel Aviv will oppose any attempt by the US to sell F-35 warplane to Qatar, which refuses to normalise with the occupying state.
Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Qatar has repeatedly opposed normalisation with Israel as long as it continues its illegal occupation of Palestine and commits crimes against Palestinians.
More recently, Qatar expressed its frustration over the delayed approval of its requests to purchase four MQ-9b Predator drones from the US.
Reports stated that the US Defense Department is reportedly encouraging the sale of over $500 million worth of drones to Qatar despite a delay from the State Department’s end.
While the Pentagon favours the sale, the US State Department has yet to approve the request despite green lighting similar applications from other allies, including the United Arab Emirates.
“The frustration from our perspective is that there is no clear indication as to why there is a delay on our request,” a Qatari official told the Wall Street Journal [WSJ] last month, pointing to Doha’s recent evacuation operations in Afghanistan as proof of its reliability as an ally, especially in matters concerning security and stability.
Beyond the Afghan peace process, Qatar facilitated rapid evacuations from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul on 15 August. It moved Washington’s consulate from Kabul to Doha to continue to carry out its diplomatic operations following the chaotic US exit from the country.
Qatar and the US also signed an agreement over the weekend enabling the former to represent Washington’s interest in Afghanistan.
Officials at the State Department say it is wary about the sale due to its fear of angering other Gulf allies, namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Qatari officials say they want to use the drones to keep their eye on giant natural-gas facilities and to monitor terrorist threats in the region.
Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup next year was also attributed in the nation’s request for drones, with officials believing that the mega-event will need protection against potential attacks.
Speaking to Doha News Dr. Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at the School of Security Studies at King’s College London and researcher of Middle East and North African Studies, said that Qatar’s effort in the US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan seems to be paying off.
“The US institutions, especially the Pentagon, are acknowledging that Doha has become the most reliable partner in this part of the world,” said Dr. Krieg in October.
After Saudi Arabia, Doha is also the second largest buyer of US military equipment, with more than $26 billion in proposed purchases via Washington’s foreign military sales programme.
Qatar also hosts the largest American base in the Middle East, the Al-Udeid airbase, which is used extensively by the US for its operations in the region.