Multi-billion dollar warplane purchase turns ‘terrorism-backer’ into valued ally
Abdel Bari Atwan AL RAI ALYOUM
FOLLOWING announcement by the Pentagon of a deal this month under which the US would sell 36 F-15 warplanes to Qatar, we can expect a tangible easing of tensions in the Gulf crisis and less likelihood of military confrontation – though a lifting of the blockade imposed on Qatar by its four regional adversaries and the reopening of their airspace to it will take some time.
President Donald Trump was the principal instigatorbehind this crisis. He used the Saudi-led alliance comprising the UAE, Bahraini and Egypt to pressurize and intimidate Qatar so as to force it to hand over ‘protection money’ in the form of arms purchases and investments in US infrastructure — just as big sister Saudi Arabia had done. It is a moot point whether the four-party Arab alliance was aware that this was the US’ objective, or was merely employed to achieve it with eyes wide open.
As soon as the F-15 sale was agreed and the US administration ensured it would receive the first $12 billion instalment we began to hear talk of a possible breakthrough in the crisis. Stalled mediation efforts were reactivated and new would-be mediators from various countries joined in. Qatar seemed close to finally disentangling itself from its trap.
The magic ingredient here was the billions of dollars forked out by Qatar. The clink of money is music to ‘businessman’ Trump’s ears, and he knows how to extract it from the Arabs – especially those of the Gulf — by force, threats and intimidation and by creating splits and tensions between them. He has never done anything to conceal this: when he returned from his visit to Riyadh he announced to the American people the glad tidings that he had brought them back money and jobs – indeed, he proclaimed; ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’.
The total value of the Qatari deal could amount to $21.1 billion for 72 F15s. The manufacturer, Boeing, stressed it was crucial for keeping its production lines for the aircraft going, and that it would provide 60,000 employment opportunities for Americans in 42 states. In other words, without the purchase, production of these planes would have to cease… so thank you, Arabs.
There has been no repeat of Trump’s earlier tweets that ‘Qatar has a history of backing terrorism at a very high level, and must be punished,’ or that ‘the isolation of Qatar is the beginning of the end for terrorism’. These have completely disappeared and been replaced by other statements praising Qatar as a strong US ally and describing the warplanes deal as a big step towards ‘consolidating’ strategic and security cooperation between the two countries.
And within hours of the deal being signed by US Defence Secretary James Mattis and his Qatari counterpart Khalid al-Atiyyah, orders were issued to two US warships to head for Port Hamad south of Doha – a gesture signifying that the US will not abandon Qatar, and the others can either like it or lump it.
We are being treated to a theatrical production whose acts were scripted in the White House. The cast was gathered and the actors’ roles allocated at the Riyadh summits in the presence of the lead character, Donald Trump, while getting the biggest possible crowd of bit-part players from 56 Arab and Islamic states to act as onlookers.
So Qatar is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism – at least not for the time being. This could change again once the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) starts being implemented, states accused of sponsoring terrorism get indicted, and victims are awarded compensation. It goes without saying that both Qatar and its Saudi and Gulf detractors will be among these states. All will find themselves in the dock together facing court orders for hundreds if not thousands of billions of dollars in compensation.
There are many episodes to this drama. We are still at the beginning of Act I, Scene I. However the plot unfolds, its victims — whether they are in the audience or are playing minor roles on stage – are the Arabs.
So congratulations to President Trump and the American people for all these billions and all these jobs, and there is no solace for the stupid.