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After UAE, Qatar also said to submit request for F-35 jets

Gulf state’s ties with Hamas could make bid a non-starter for Americans, who are committed to maintaining Israeli military edge in the region

US Air Force crew members beside an F-35 Lightning II at the Paris Air Show June 18, 2019. (AP/Michel Euler)
US Air Force crew members beside an F-35 Lightning II at the Paris Air Show June 18, 2019. (AP/Michel Euler)

Qatar has reportedly asked the United States to buy advanced F-35 stealth fighters, in another test to America’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s military edge in the region in the face of wealthy Gulf states seeking advanced military hardware.

According to a Wednesday report by Reuters, which cited three people familiar with the matter, the Qataris submitted their request in recent weeks and no American response would be forthcoming until the details were handed over to Congress.

Under US law, Congress is tasked with vetting sales of arms to Middle Eastern countries and weighing them against America’s commitments to Israeli military superiority, with a determination usually made following consultations between the Pentagon and Israeli defense officials. While Israel cannot veto a sale, it can raise concerns that could make it more difficult to seal a deal.

The Qatari embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment, according to the report.

The US and Qatar enjoy a close military relationship based on their shared animosity toward Iran. The gulf state hosts some 8,000 US military personnel at the Al-Udeid Air Base, the US’s largest in the region.

Despite that relationship, Qatar’s ties with the Palestinian Hamas terror group could mean any request of stealth fighters would be dead on arrival, the report assessed.

The Qatari request comes after reports in September that the US and the United Arab Emirates were likely to seal an arms deal for the sale of the aircraft following the Washington-brokered Abraham Accords between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel.

Since the announcement of the normalization accords, Abu Dhabi has been open about its desire to acquire F-35 warplanes and other advanced US-made weaponry, and senior Emirati officials have also said that ties with Israel should lift any remaining barriers to such a sale.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially said he opposed the sale of the planes to any other nation in the region, even an Arab country at peace with Israel. But since then, he has softened his line, signaling he will trust the US to honor its commitment to ensure Israel’s military edge in the Middle East.

An unsourced Hebrew-language media report last month said Israel hoped to convince the US to “downgrade” the weaponry provided to Abu Dhabi, as preventing a sale altogether was seen as unlikely.

The report further said that with more normalization deals on the horizon between Israel and Arab states following the Abraham Accords, Jerusalem believed the US administration could push for more American weapons deals with regional powers.

In September US President Donald Trump said he has “absolutely no problem” with selling advanced F-35 fighters to the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states.

“They’re very wealthy countries for the most part. Some are extraordinarily [wealthy] like the UAE, and they would like to buy some fighter jets and I personally would have no problem with it,” Trump said.

Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report.

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