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Qatar makes formal request to US for F-35 jets: Report

Despite being close allies, potential Qatar deal must satisfy decades-old US agreement to maintain Israel's 'qualitative military edge'
Any F-35 sale could take years to negotiate and deliver and would also need congressional approval.
Any F-35 sale may take years to negotiate and deliver and would also require congressional approval (AFP/File photo)

Qatar has submitted a formal request to buy US-made F-35 fighter jets, according to a Reuters report, in a deal that if pursued may strain US ties with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.

The request for the fighter jets was submitted by Doha in recent weeks, three people familiar told the news agency.

"As a matter of policy, the United States does not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they are formally notified to Congress," a State Department official said.

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The request follows an August accord between the US and the UAE in which Washington agreed to consider allowing the Gulf state to purchase F-35s as a side deal to the US-brokered normalisation agreement between Israel and Abu Dhabi.

Israel signaled stiff opposition to a UAE sale and would likely be just as resistant, if not moreso, to one with Qatar, fearing it might undercut its military advantage in the Middle East.

One of the sources said Qatar's letter of request for the jets, the first formal step in the legal process of foreign military sales, was not linked to a normalisation deal, and that Qatar has not shown any sign it will normalise ties with Israel.

The US and Qatar have close ties. In September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani in Washington, as the US may be moving forward with naming Qatar as a major non-Nato ally.

The US has helped to arm regional allies, including Qatar, host to the largest American military facility in the Middle East, in hopes of countering Iranian influence.

Still, both the potential Qatari and UAE F-35 deals must first satisfy a decades-old agreement between the US and Israel that states any American weapons sold to the region must not impair Israel’s “qualitative military edge".

Saudi Arabia, Washington's most powerful and closest partner among the Gulf Arab states, is also likely to oppose the US supplying F-35s to Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt remain locked in a three-year blockade of Qatar that the Trump administration has tried to end, without success.

Any F-35 sale may take years to negotiate and deliver, giving a new US presidential administration plenty of time to block it. Any potential sale would also need congressional approval.

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