Qatar to purchase 7 Italian navy ships in $6bn defense deal amid Gulf crisis
“I am pleased to announce the conclusion of a deal between the Qatari Emiri Naval Forces to buy seven naval units from Italy in the context of the joint military cooperation between the two countries,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, Qatar’s foreign minister, said on Wednesday, as quoted by Reuters.
The official declined to give further details on the name of Italian companies or the ships themselves, but added the deal was estimated at $5.91 billion.
Last June, Italy's state-run shipbuilding corporation Fincantieri announced a 4-billion-euro contract to deliver some vessels for Qatari Navy.
The company said at the time it would build four corvettes for the Gulf monarchy, as well as two auxiliary vessels and an amphibious landing ship. It is not clear at this stage if the deal in question covers the same warships.
According to Reuters, the vessels will be built in Italian shipyards starting from 2018. Italy’s principal defense manufacturer Leonardo is said to install electronic equipment and weapons systems, thus receiving around a third of the massive deal.
Currently, the Qatari Navy has only limited combat capabilities due to a small number of ships and assets. According to Global Security website, the Navy’s scope of operations is limited to patrolling its coastal waterway for short periods of time, along with anti-smuggling and anti-piracy missions.
Three French-built La Combattante III fast attack boats armed with Exocet anti-ship missiles, which entered service in 1983, form the core of the modern-day Navy.
The news on the military deal follows the ongoing feud between Qatar and its Arab neighbors. The widening diplomatic spat has led to an economic and travel blockade, coupled by the 13-point ultimatum issued by the Saudi-led Gulf bloc.
Among other demands, Qatar’s Arab neighbors insisting that Doha stop its support for terror groups, expel the Turkish forces from the country, and shut down the state-funded Al Jazeera international news network.
Doha has rebuffed the ultimatum, reaching to other regional powers to render political support. Turkey has sent a small contingent comprising troops, materiel and armored vehicles on numerous occasions, also delivering food and fuel shipments to Qatar.
The Saudis’ arch-rival and sectarian adversary, Iran, has also aided Qatar, shipping some 1,000 tons of fruits and vegetables on daily basis, according to Iranian media.