Senior U.S. and UAE officials say the peace deal is paving the way for the Trump administration to continue selling stealth F-35 fighter jets and other sophisticated weapons in the Persian Gulf state. This prospect is increasing the likelihood that Israel and other Middle Eastern countries will seek more advanced weapons.
In Israel, the proposed sale is dampening the otherwise great enthusiasm here for White House-mediated deals to normalize relations with the UAE and Bahrain as well.
From a purely military perspective, I think it is a dangerous development. It is not just a new weapon technology. The F-35 is a full-fledged weapons platform, said Chuck Freilich, a former Israel national security adviser and US-Israel relations analyst. He said the F-35 would represent a dramatic improvement in the Emirates’ military capabilities.
Eli Cohen, Israel’s intelligence minister, said in an interview that the historic peace agreements to be signed on Tuesday would support Israel’s security by strengthening the alliance against Iran, which he called the main threat to Middle East stability. At the same time, he said Israel, which already has a fleet of 20 F-35s, would oppose any arms deal that destroys its military superiority in the region.
We have a clear policy regarding maintaining our advantage and will protest against any weapon that could harm that advantage, he said.
U.S. and UAE officials have not disclosed details of the proposed sale, including the number of aircraft and how advanced a model is. But under a 12-year law, the United States is committed to ensuring that Israel maintains a quality military advantage.
Another senior figure in the Israeli defense institution warned that there was no guarantee that relations between Israel and the UAE would remain friendly.
Things are changing rapidly here, and we should always be aware of this, said the old figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity to address security discussions. Israel is a small country. Its military superiority allows it to maintain virtual strategic depth. The removal of this edge is extremely worrying for the security of Israel.
The Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reported on Sunday that the Israeli military is preparing to present to the United States a trade list of advanced military equipment that would ensure Israel maintains its military advantage. The paper said the list, compiled by a special committee set up by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, is likely to include advanced ammunition and rapid deployment of V-22 Osprey rotating aircraft, fighter jets. and other weapons. The Israeli military will not confirm the accuracy of this report.
According to media reports in Israel and the United States, Netanyahu privately approved the proposed sale of fighter jets to the UAE as part of a general agreement that included the normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel.
But Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Monday ahead of the White House ceremony, has repeatedly denied agreeing to such a deal. A recent statement from his office said the prime minister had made clear his opposition during a July conversation with US Ambassador David Friedman over the sale of F-35s and other advanced weapons to another Middle Eastern country.
As with the previous sale of the F-16 to Egypt, the United States could aim to provide the UAE with an F-35 variant that would allow Israel to maintain its advantage. It is unclear whether the Emirates, which is already deploying a powerful air force, will settle for less than the more sophisticated version of the F-35.
The top Israeli defense official said the sale of fighter jets to the UAE is sure to spark a regional arms race. It will have a cascading effect and will be more difficult to prevent advanced arms sales to other countries in the region.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani shared concerns about arms sales in the Middle East during an interview Sunday in Washington, where he took part in security talks Monday with US officials.
“We do not want to see any escalation in the region and we have seen that the region needs to be more peaceful, more focused on prosperity and development than on the purchase of military equipment,” he said. We hope that everything under consideration is only to protect our countries and not to be aggressive towards other countries. Relations between Qatar and the UAE have been extremely tense in recent years.
The F-35 is manufactured by a US-led consortium, including seven US allies and six other allied countries that have taken the aircraft or negotiated contracts to get them. The UAE would be the first Arab country to receive aircraft.
In 2008, the United States enacted its commitment to ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military advantage in the Middle East, and this promise has gained widespread bipartisan support. Over the years, the United States has provided significant military assistance to support that promise, with the Obama administration allocating $ 38 billion in a 10-year aid package.
Israeli concerns over the sale of the F-35 to the UAE may now find sympathetic members in Congress.
Depending on that [the Emirates] I wish, exactly, it could cause a lot of heartburn on both sides of the aisle, said a congressional aide who regularly handles arms transfers. This is a growing curiosity for us because there is no information coming from the administration.
For some, it may be okay, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. But this is a game changer, giving Emiratis these kinds of skills, really, for an unknown purpose. In which conflict do they need an F-35?
An earlier U.S. arms sale to the Emirates was included in an $ 8 billion package advanced by the Trump administration last year. Declaring an emergency, ostensibly a threat posed by Iran, the White House was able to bypass congressional oversight of the deal. President Trump also vetoed a bilateral resolution that would have blocked U.S. sales in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for use in Yemen.
A similar emergency statement to advance the sale of the F-35 could be difficult to defend. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the emergency declaration last year as a one-off event.
But Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. peace negotiator for the Middle East, said it would be difficult for lawmakers to break the F-35 deal even if they wanted to. It is very difficult for Congress to take responsibility for blocking something that seems connected [a peace agreement] that promotes the American national interest.
At home, Netanyahu has been criticized for failing to inform senior members of his government about what exactly the deals involve.
No one knows what is in these agreements, but it certainly is not peace for peace, said Nitzan Horowitz, leader of Meretz’s left-wing party and a member of the Foreign and Defense Committee in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
Horowitz, a leading advocate for peace with the Palestinians, said there had been no discussion about the agreements within the government or in the Knesset and that Netanyahu had not even consulted with his chief of staff, defense minister or foreign minister. This has never happened before. Netanyahu just bypassed them all, Horowitz said.
Beyond the F-35, he said he was deeply concerned about the possible sale of advanced cyber systems in the UAE. This is technology that can easily be passed on or fall into the wrong hands, he said.
DeYoung reported from Washington. Steven Hendrix in Jerusalem contributed.
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