WASHINGTON – Qatar will buy U.S. Patriot missiles for the first time in a major arms deal worth $11 billion, officials said Monday, as Washington awaits a decision by the Gulf state on a lucrative fighter jet contract.
The sale will provide Qatar with roughly 10 batteries for Patriot systems designed to knock out incoming missiles, as well as 24 Apache helicopters and 500 Javelin anti-tank missiles, according to the U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Qatar was investing in missile defense systems to counter what it sees as the threat from Iran across the Gulf, as Tehran has built up its missile arsenal, officials said.
The weapons deal was the biggest for the United States in 2014 and came as Qatar weighs proposals in a fighter jet competition, with U.S. aerospace firm Boeing vying against British BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation of France.
“It’s a good sign,” said a senior defense official, referring to the arms sale and the prospects for the fighter jet bidding.
“It’s a pretty significant step.”
Qatar’s minister of state for defense, Major General Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah, committed to the sale in a signing ceremony Monday in Washington after talks with his American counterpart, Chuck Hagel.
“Today’s signing ceremony underscores the strong partnership between the United States and Qatar in the area of security and defense and will help improve our bilateral cooperation across a range of military operations,” said Hagel’s press secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby.
It was also the first time Qatar had acquired Patriot missiles, which other Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have purchased in the past.
Qatari Ambassador Mohammed Jaham Al-Kuwari told AFP the missiles and other arms purchased were “defensive” in nature and not directed at any other country.
“As you know our region is going through a lot of instability. What we bought are weapons to defend Qatar,” he said.
He said the sale conveyed the importance of Qatar’s relationship with the United States adding there were other negotiations that would produce new deals “very soon.”
US officials and commanders have long urged their Gulf partners to set up a coordinated missile defense network to counter Iran, but cooperation has been slow in coming.
The weapons would enhance America’s security and diplomatic ties to Qatar, the U.S. official said, despite disagreement over Syria and Qatar’s assistance to some rebel groups deemed too radical by Washington.