Qatar has announced that it has struck a $5.9 billion deal with Italy to buy naval vessels.
The deal comes during a period of diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut all diplomatic ties with Qatar. The countries also closed their borders and as a result of this, Qatar’s sea links, air links and road links have been cut off. The Saudi-bloc has accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism and it’s a charge that Qatar has repeatedly denied.
The Saudi-bloc has asked Qatar to comply with six principals in order to re-establish ties. Qatar, has refused to engage in any dialogue until the blockade is lifted. The two sides have reached an impasse with neither willing to back down.
For Qatar, this blockade has the potential to hit its economy. The oil-rich nation has so far been able to assure the passage of basic goods to the region but it has also raised concerns. In August, it filed a legal complaint with the World Trade Organization challenging the trade boycott.
Over the years, Qatar has signed military agreements with nations like the US, UK and France. Its total military force is about 42,800 men. It is home to the largest military base for the US forces in the Gulf region. From 2014, it has significantly expanded on its own armed forces.
Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani announced the defense deal with Italy at a joint news conference in Doha with Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano. Italy’s Alfano said that Italy was committed to supporting Qatar. He said, “I would like to point out to our excellent ties with Qatar and that our goal is to support Qatar’s plans in the international arena.”
Under the agreement with Qatar's naval forces, Qatar will be buying seven naval units. Further details were not provided at the press conference.
Thani took the opportunity to sharply rebuke the countries imposing the blockade. He said, “We (Qatar) are not paying attention to decisions that don't produce anything new," he said. "Every day brings something that contradicts the other so Qatar is not going to tire itself staying abreast on what (the quartet) see as solutions to resolving the crisis."
Our assessment is that Qatar’s announcement of the arms deal with Italy is also a way for it to signal to its neighbors that it has the support of the international community. It is demonstrating that despite being cut off economically, it still has the buying power to sign major military deals. Its goal is to show the Saudi-bloc that the current blockade would further their resolve to defend their country by fortifying it navy.