Amidst the remarkable peace deals signed this week by two Gulf Arab states and Israel, and more expected by the Trump administration, the State Department announced plans for a major upgrade to the U.S. relationship with Qatar. This could also be an incentive to get Qatar to become one of the next Arab states to sign a peace deal with Israel.
Qatar has been embroiled in serious tensions since 2017 with other U.S. Gulf allies, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt.
These intra-Gulf hostilities have put the U.S. in a strategic bind. This initiative may also be part of U.S. efforts to end the three years of serious tensions between them.
Most importantly, this move would also help tighten the anti-Iran Gulf coalition that President Trump is forging in the region and further cement ties between Qatar and the U.S.
Qatar, where I helped establish the first US Defense Attaché Office (DAO) in the 1990s, currently hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East – the Al Udeid Air Base located west of Doha, Qatar.
The base is owned by the Qatar Emiri Air Force and is home to the forward headquarters of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) and United States Air Force Central Command (USAFCC). It also hosts significant pre-positioned military equipment for the U.S. Army.
According to Reuters, the United States hopes to name Qatar as a major non-NATO ally (MNNA). “We’re going to move ahead, we hope, with designating Qatar a major non-NATO ally,” Timothy Lenderking, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Arabian Gulf affairs, was reported as saying in a conference call.
Two other Gulf Arab states – Kuwait and Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, currently have MNNA status, along with 15 other countries.
As Reuters notes, this upgraded defense status provides these nations with increased benefits in defense trade and security cooperation, including preferential access to U.S. military equipment and technology, free surplus military materiel, and prioritized cooperation on training.
The Trump administration is clearly making significant strategic moves, as well as diplomatic progress in the region, that gain very little press positive coverage.