Since the beginning of the Gulf crisis, Qatar has started a feverish arms race, through multi-billion worth military deals. According to experts, this reveals Qatari leaders’ fear of the scenario of military intervention.
The French newspaper Liberation reported that after Saudi Arabia and its allies had cut all diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June, accusing Doha of supporting extremist groups and rapprochement with Iran, the gas emirate has signed a series of military contracts with a total value of 20 billion euros (25 billion dollars).
David Roberts, a professor at King's College in London, said: "Despite the rise in defense spending in Qatar for several years, the recent rise appears to be related directly to the crisis."
After the dispute took place, Doha bought F-15 fighters from the United States, and in December Doha signed a contract to purchase 12 Rafal fighter jets during French President Emmanuel Macaron's visit to the country.
Doha has also signed a deal to buy seven Italian warships and has begun negotiations to buy Russian S-400 air defense systems.
Qatari forces have recently introduced Chinese-made ballistic missiles. “There has been a huge investment in defense until 2013," said Andreas Craig, Qatari government adviser until last year. "Qatar has been spending about $ 3 billion (2.4 billion euros) a year on defense, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, but the recent rise in military spending reveals the fear of invasion."
Qatari officials admitted that “there was a fear that the economic and diplomatic measures imposed on Qatar on June 5 would be a prelude to a military intervention," said Christian Olercichen, analyst at the Baker Institute.
According to Craig, fear of the invasion dates back to 2014 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain suddenly recalled their ambassadors in Qatar. Although this crisis has been resolved, its memory and its repercussions are still firmly entrenched in Qatari officials’ memory.
In a related context, Craig said that the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim is obsessed with weapons, due to his military background, where he received training at the prestigious British military academy of Sandhurst. This is shown clearly by allocating more resources to defense.
For his side, David Roberts highlights that: “Qatari leaders are trying to predict what is unpredictable," he said. "Even if military intervention is unlikely, they are preparing themselves for the worst." Apart from the purely defense related side, signing a military contract has also a diplomat effect on the Gas Emirate, that wants to strengthen its relations with some key nations.
“Qatar wanted to offer Paris, London and Washington an increasing role in maintaining its security and stability,” Roberts said.
The report concludes that, despite Qatar's efforts to strengthen its army, its capabilities remain far inferior the capabilities of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.