The White House has finally given its blessing to the sale of at least $7 billion worth of fighter jets to Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain, Defense News reports. Under the deal, Qatar will get 72 F-15E Strike Eagles and Kuwait will get F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. Bahrain also plans to buy 17 F-16s. The sale had been delayed, to the ire of lawmakers like Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), but the deal will keep open a Boeing production line in St. Louis, Missouri. Israel also protested that the deal could undermine its qualitative military edge in the region, but its concerns should be allayed in the face of a new $38 billion in military financing from Washington.
U.S. officials began notifying lawmakers informally about the sale of 36 Boeing F-15 fighter jets to Qatar valued at around $4 billion, and 28 F/A- 18E/F Super Hornets, plus options for 12 more, to Kuwait for around $3 billion, the sources said.
They also told lawmakers about plans to sell 17 Lockheed F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain, plus upgrades of up to 20 additional aircraft.
The deals will be formally announced once the 40-day informal notification process has ended. Then lawmakers will have 30 days to block the sales, although such action is rare.
Reuters reported earlier this month that the U.S. government was poised to approve the long-delayed sales to Kuwait and Qatar.
The State Department said it could not comment on any ongoing government-to-government arms sales.
Delays in the process had caused frustration among U.S. defense officials and industry executives, who warned that Washington’s foot-dragging could cost them billions of dollars of business if buyers grew impatient and sought other suppliers.
The approval of the fighter jet sales comes as the White House tries to bolster relations with Gulf Arab allies who want to upgrade their military capabilities. They fear the United States is drawing closer to Iran, their arch-rival, after Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year.
Sources said officials at both the State Department and Pentagon had largely agreed to the deals some time ago, but had been awaiting final approval from the White House.
Qatar, home to the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East, and Kuwait have ramped up military spending after uprisings across the Arab world and amid rising tensions between Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states and Iran, the region’s Shi’ite power.
Both Qatar and Kuwait are part of a 34-nation alliance announced by Saudi Arabia in December aimed at countering Islamic State and al Qaeda militants in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.
The sales will boost fighter production for both companies.
Boeing’s F-15 line is set to close in 2019 after Boeing completes work on a large order for Saudi Arabia, unless a follow-on order is approved.