Qatar is purchasing $US11 billion in Patriot missile batteries and Apache attack helicopters from the United States, according to AFP. It’s the largest single sale of U.S. weaponry in 2014, and it’s to a country with only about a quarter-million citizens.
With this purchase, Qatar might be swapping soft power for military might. The gas-rich emirate gambled on the region-wide success of the Muslim Brotherhood in the years after the “Arab Spring” protests. But its strategy toppled with the military coup that removed Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. Qatar’s neighbours also became increasingly suspicious of its support for Islamist movements throughout the Middle East, leading to one of the biggest diplomatic crises in the history of the Gulf monarchies.
Qatar’s been unable to insulate itself from regional chaos through its diplomatic outreach, which has had substantial blowback. But Patriot missiles will do just fine: they’re perhaps the most advanced projectile of their type, and have the ability to intercept incoming missiles and destroy enemy tanks and planes.
The Qatari monarchy has yet another hard power asset insuring its survival: Qatar is home to Al Udeid Air Base, one of the most important U.S. military installations in the Middle East.
This purchase is a sign that Qatar’s ambitions haven’t dimmed in spite of its inevitably unsuccessful approach to the region’s post-Arab Spring turbulence. It’s also a sign of how little a price in terms of its relationship with the U.S. Qatar has payed for its support of groups like Hamas, or its citizens’ alleged assistance for extremist groups in Syria.
Qatar is still a favoured U.S. partner in the region, perhaps because of this ability to provide an opening to extremist groups: The emirate played a major role in mediating the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap in June.
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