Joe Gould and Awad Mustafa

jgould@defensenews.com

amustafa@defensenews.com

Washington and Dubai // \

WASHINGTON AND DUBAI — According to the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a decision on Qatar's purchase of 73 F-15 Silent Eagles may come soon.

US Sen. Senetor Ben Cardin, D-Md., told Defense News on his recent return from a Middle East trip to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel said that he met with Qatari Defense Minister, Shiekh Khalid Al-Attiyah, and discussed the F-15 SE subject.

Qatar's request has been delayed for two years. Although  , and according to acongressional source said, the Defense Department and State dDepartments have both supported the sales, according to a congressional source, while the White House has put on the brakes. According to Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, Qatar is seeking 73 jets — 36 in the first tranche, a buy that would take 42 months to be delivered.

Sen Cardin said that although the decision is still up to the administration, he believes that there’s a good chance that sale will go through.

"The president’s going to be in Saudi Arabia [soon] this month, next month. I have no indication from the White House, but I expect by then there will be some decisions made," Cardin added.

Cardin said that Qatar is a small country with a relatively small military capacity, so the modernization of their aircraft could be something that would be useful in the coalition.

"It is one of the only countries in the region that doesn’t have the more modern fighter. I think they have a total of seven pilots in that country so it’s not a country of great capacity. I think it’s more any military sale in the region, the administration trying to review this in conjunction with the post-JCPOA environment to make — they know they have the Saudis, and they have some other sales coming up here," hHe said. 

He added that the Obama administration is trying to be consistent, both in dealing with the have a consistent pattern for not just the threat of Iran and but the security of Israel.

During his visit to Israel, Cardin said that Israeli officials discussed their concerns about their neighbors being equipped by the US.

"The realities of the modernization of military coalition partners did come up, which Israel is always concerned could coalesce against their interests. We recognize the precautions on all of these sales. I think they would prefer to see us as the supplier of the military armaments rather than other countries. So I think there is a general understanding that what we're doing is right," he said

Israeli officials in February expressed angst over the potential US deal with Qatar.

"We don't want to be blamed for closing down the line, but at the same time, our American friends understand that we have serious problems with Qatar," an Israeli government source told Defense News.

In interviews granted on condition of anonymity, that official and a recently retired Israeli cabinet member said Israel's opposition stems from Qatar's support for extreme Sunni Islamic organizations. They also criticized the Doha-based al Jazeera Arabic television network for "inciting extremists to violence" against Israel.

"Why do we object to Qatar? Because Qatar directly helps Hamas and has an ideology that fuels extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood," the former Israeli cabinet official said.

The former official said he did not know where things now stood with Washington, but noted that before he left office more than a year ago, the assumption was that Israel would try to prevail on its US partners to reject the sale to Qatar.

Last month during the Doha International Maritime Defence Conference and Exhibition (DIMDEX 2016), assistant director to the Qatari National Security Shield militarisation project Brigadier Tariq Al-Obaidli said that partner nations drawing down in the region is forcing Gulf Cooperation Council countries to shift their defense strategy and evolve their military doctrines.

"The change in focus of friendly and partner nations stationed in the Gulf with military bases towards the Far East and specifically South East Asia with what is called Pivoting to Asia will create a vacuum in the region which forces us to re-evaluate our military doctrines, therefore it has become more clear to Gulf countries that the current presence of friendly nations in the gulf will be only symbolic," he said.

This week Kuwait, another Gulf coalition partner that which has suffered from delays for a contract to purchase 40 F/A-18 Super Hornets signed an 8 billion Euro deal with the European Eurofighter consortium.   

According to Jean-Marc Rickli, assistant professor with the Department of Defence Studies at King's College London and lecturer at the Joaan Bin Jassim Joint Command and Staff College in Qatar, the perceived feeling of abandonment by the West among Gulf leaders and militaries the Gulf military is strong.

"(The feeling) grew out of the West reactions to the Arab Spring, the West nonintervention in Syria and the US reengagement with Iran. This perception made them prone to be more proactive. The Saudi intervention in Yemen is a case in point," Rickli said.

These new contracts, Rickli said, should be seen as a result of US perceived disengagement toward the Gulf states since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

"Weapons procurement has always be a way to cultivate and diversify allies for the Gulf countries. Since 2015, another factor has been added: the impetus under Saudi leadership for the Gulf states to guarantee their own security and contribute to regional security. This requires new capabilities," he said.

Barbara Opall-Rome contributed to this report from Tel-Aviv

Email: jgould@defensenews.com and amustafa@defensenews.com

Twitter: @ReporterJoe and @awadz