MERIGNAC, France: Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah delivers a speech during a ceremony for the delivery of its first Rafale multipurpose fighter from French manufacturer Dassault yesterday. – AFP

MERIGNAC, France: Qatar yesterday took delivery of the first of 36 Rafale multipurpose jet fighters it has ordered from French manufacturer Dassault. The handover ceremony in Merignac, southwestern France, where the planes are built, was attended by Qatar Defense Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah and Dassault Aviation chief Eric Trappier. Qatar ordered 24 of the fighters in 2015, adding 12 more last year. It also has an option to buy 36 more. The twin-engine fighter has been in service with the French Air Force since 2004.

France has also sold Mirage F1, Alpha Jets and Mirage 2000 fighters to Qatar. After failing to sell the Rafale abroad for several years, France finally won a contract from Egypt in 2015 for 24 jets, followed by the sale to Qatar. In September 2016, India also agreed to buy 36 of the fighters. Qatar has upped its defense spending after being diplomatically isolated by its Gulf neighbors. Since June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a boycott on Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism and being too close to Iran. Qatar denies the allegations and has accused the Saudi-led bloc of aiming to incite regime change in Doha. – AFP