The tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar is embroiled in a massive diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and other close US allies. The Trump administration openly accuses it of sponsoring terrorism. So why did Washington just finalize a $12 billion arms deal that could give Qatar some of the most powerful military fighter jets on the planet?
The deal was in the works for a while — it’s actually part of a larger $21 billion agreement made back in November 2016, in the waning weeks of the Obama administration. This portion of the pact, a $12 billion deal for 36 F-15 planes, was signed by Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday so contracting actions could begin.
The move is particularly striking because it comes while the Trump administration publicly struggles to figure out how to handle the wealthy nation, which houses one of the largest American military bases in the Middle East but also maintains ties to groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Those ties, in turn, have sparked one of the biggest diplomatic standoffs in the Middle East in decades. On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain cut ties to the country and closed all land, sea, and air borders with it. (Four other countries, including Yemen, the Maldives, Mauritania, and Comoros, quickly followed suit.) They did so in part because Riyadh claims Doha’s backing of terrorist groups like ISIS are stronger than it lets on, and so Qatar’s neighbors wanted to send a strong message.
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