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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 14 New Delhi March 24, 2018

Tensions in the Gulf

Friday 23 March 2018, by Harish Chandola


Tiny Qatar of 300,000 people is getting into problems with its neighbors of the Gulf Co-operation Council. It has gone into a frenzy of buying warplanes for its Air Force. In December it purchased from France six Mirage fighters, and earlier six cargo planes and a squadron of propeller-driven trainers, to form half of its Air Force,

It is the world’s wealthiest country.

Since June it has signed contracts worth $ 20 billion (over Rs 132 crores) to buy military planes from three countries: F-15 fighters from the United States, Typhoons from Britain, and Rafales from France.

It has been under a nine-month blockade from its neighbours like Bahrein, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who say that they want it to end its so-called support for Islamic groups.

Surprisingly, the US President, Mr Donald Trump, whose country maintains a sprawling airbase in Qatar, functioning as the forward headquarters of America’s Central Command, on June 9 called Qatar a sponsor of terrorism. That might have been under pressure from the Gulf countries. But Qatar has been building 200 housing units for American officers and their families plus an entertainment complex.

The US maintains a security umbrella over the Arab Gulf states. Bahrain is the home of the American Fifth Fleet and it plans to enlarge its naval facilities in the region.

Qatar had accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of planning a military coup in it. It had expressed its fears in 2011 when other Gulf states had deployed troops to Bahrain to quash a so-called popular uprising in it. It awakened a rare display of nationalism in the tiny Emirate, with its Defence Minister, Khalid al-Attiyah, saying its purchase of $ 20 billion of military planes was not enough.

Qatar’s standing army is just 27,500 men.

Other Gulf countries are also spending large sums on the purchase of military aircraft: Bahrain has spent $ 3.8 billion to double its fleet of American F-16 fighters. The United Arab Emirates has signed a $ 1.6 billion contract with the American firm, Lockheed Martin, for aircraft.

During his visit to Saudi Arabia in June, US President Trump announced arms deals with the Kingdom worth $ 110 billion, the largest in American history. The Saudis have yet to sign contracts for the purchases.

Last month the United Arab Emirate claimed that two Qatari fighter jets intercepted one of its civilian airliners. With scores of new warplanes buzzing the Gulf skies, such incidents may become common.

The author is a veteran journalist with wide knowledge of developments in West Asia and the Arab world.

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