US, Qatar ink $12 billion deal on F-15 fighter jets
Against the backdrop of Qatar's isolation in the Middle East, US has inked a $12 billion deal for supply of 36 F-15 fighter jets to Qatar. Highlighting Qatar's strategic importance to the US Navy's, USS Chinook and US Coast Guard Cutter Baranof were also present in Doha. However, President Donald Trump had earlier called out Qatar for funding terrorism and hailed its isolation.
US stakes in Qatar
Udeid, the largest US air base in the Middle East is in Qatar. The country hosts about 10,000 US military personnel. The base also serves as a staging area for US operations against ISIS. The two countries further have strong economic ties.
What context is this happening in?
Saudi Arabia and its regional allies recently severed diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar accusing Qatar of funding terrorist organizations including Al Qaeda and ISIS. Trump indirectly triggered the crisis during his Middle-East visit, where he urged Arab nations to fight against terrorism. While Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson has been attempting to ease tensions, Trump has vocally expressed his approval of Qatar's isolation.
The $12 billion deal was inked between Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis and Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah, Qatari Minister of State for Defence, for 36 F-15 jets. The Pentagon statement noted that the sale was expected to improve interoperability and security co-operation between the two countries. Steps to be taken in fighting ISIS and de-escalating tensions in the regions were also discussed.
Mixed signals from the Trump administration
While Trump has hailed Qatar's diplomatic isolation as the "beginning of the end of terrorism", those including Mattis have been attempting to ease tensions, keeping in mind the strategic value that Qatar holds for the US, in fighting the ISIS in the current context. The current sale seems to be an effort to re-assure unwavering support to Qatar, irrespective of change in political circumstances.