Qatar submitted a formal request in recent weeks to the United States to acquire Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, reported Reuters on Wednesday, citing three people familiar with the matter.
If completed, a deal could complicate or even strain U.S. ties with allies, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Qatar is home to the largest U.S. military facility in the Middle East, as well as to 8,000 U.S. military members and U.S. Department of Defense civilian workers.
Doha’s request follows the United States agreeing in August to give the United Arab Emirates F-35s in exchange for normalizing ties with Israel in what became the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords that also included Bahrain normalizing ties with the Jewish state.
Israel and its supporters have expressed objections to possible sales, saying such deals could undermine Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) in the region, which the United States is required by law to ensure—a concern likely to arise over a possible U.S.-Qatar arms sale.
However, “Qatar’s letter of request for the jets, the first formal step in the legal process of foreign military sale, was not directly linked to its adoption of the Abraham Accord. Nor has Qatar shown any sign it will normalize ties with Israel,” reported Reuters, citing one of its sources.
A fourth person told the outlet that Qatar’s link to the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas has also stymied the idea of arms sales to Doha.
Nonetheless, the Trump administration has treated Qatar as an ally, especially against the Iranian threat.
In September, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani met in Washington as the United States intends to proceed with naming Qatar as a major non-NATO ally, which would allow it to have certain benefits in terms of military and security cooperation with the United States.
The Trump administration has unsuccessfully sought to end a three-year standoff pitting Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
F-35 sales usually take years to finalize and deliver, thereby allowing a new U.S. presidential administration sufficient time to halt such deals. Any sale would also require congressional approval.