Senior U.S. and UAE officials say the peace deal paves the way for the Trump administration to continue selling coveted F-35 stealth fighters and other sophisticated weapons to the Persian Gulf state. This possibility increases the likelihood that Israel and other countries in the Middle East will again seek more advanced weapons.
In Israel, the proposed sale stains the otherwise great enthusiasm here for the agreements mediated by the White House to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“From a purely military perspective, I think this is a dangerous development. It̵
Eli Cohen, Israel’s intelligence minister, said in an interview that the historic peace agreements to be signed on Tuesday will support Israel’s security by strengthening the alliance against Iran, which he called the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East. At the same time, he said Israel – which already has a fleet of 20 F-35s – would oppose any arms deal that undermines its military superiority in the region.
“We have a clear policy to maintain 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 jets and how advanced a model is. But under a 12-year law, the United States is obligated to ensure that Israel maintains a “qualitative military advantage.”
Another senior member of the Israel Defense Forces warned that there was no guarantee that relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates would remain friendly.
“Things are changing fast here, and we must always be aware of this,” said the senior figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity to address security discussions. “Israel is a small country. Its military advantage makes it possible to maintain strategic virtual depth. The removal of this border is extremely worrying for Israel’s security. ”
The Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reported on Sunday that the Israeli army is preparing to present the United States with a shopping list of advanced military hardware that will ensure that Israel retains its military edge. The newspaper said this list, compiled by a special committee set up by Netanyahu and Defense Secretary Benny Gantz, would likely include advanced ammunition and fast delivery of V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft, fighter jets and other weapons. The Israeli military would not confirm the accuracy of this report.
According to media reports in Israel and the United States, Netanyahu privately condoned the proposed sale of the fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates as part of a comprehensive agreement that included the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
But Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Monday ahead of the White House ceremony, has repeatedly denied accepting such a scheme. A recent statement from his office said the prime minister had made his opposition clear during a July talks with US Ambassador David Friedman on the sale of the F-35 and other advanced weapons to another country in the Middle East.
As with previous sales of F-16s to Egypt, the United States may be able to provide the UAE with an F-35 variant that will allow Israel to maintain its advantage. It is unclear whether the United Arab Emirates, which already has a strong air force, would settle for less than the most sophisticated version of the F-35.
The senior Israeli defense figure said the sale of fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates would certainly trigger a regional arms race. “It will have a cascade effect and it will be more difficult to prevent the sale of advanced weapons to other countries in the region.”
Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, shared concern over arms sales to the Middle East during an interview in Washington on Sunday, in which he attended security talks on Monday with US officials.
“We do not want to see any escalation in the region and we have seen the region need to be more peaceful, more focused on prosperity and development rather than buying military equipment,” he said. “We hope that all that is being considered is only to defend our countries and not be aggressive towards other countries.” Relations between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been extremely tense in recent years.
The F-35 is produced by a US-led consortium that includes seven US allies, and six other allied countries have received the plane or negotiated contracts to get them. The UAE would be the first Arab country to receive the jets.
In 2008, the United States enshrined in law its commitment to ensure that Israel maintains its “qualitative military edge” in the Middle East and that the pledge has achieved broad bipartisan support. Over the years, the United States has provided significant military assistance to back that promise, with the Obama administration allocating $ 38 billion in a 10-year aid package.
Israel’s concerns over the sale of the F-35 to the United Arab Emirates could now find sympathetic members of Congress.
“Depending on what [the Emirates] wishes, exactly, it could potentially cause a lot of heartburn on both sides of the aisle, ”said a congressman who regularly deals with arms transfers. “This is a growing curiosity for us because no information is coming” from the administration.
“For some, it may be okay,” said the assistant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the problem. “But this is a game changer that gives Emiratis this kind of opportunity for a truly unknown purpose. In what conflict do they need an F-35? ”
An earlier sale of US weapons to the United Arab Emirates was included in an $ 8 billion package presented by the Trump administration last year. By declaring an “emergency”, apparently a threat from Iran, the White House was able to circumvent congressional monitoring of the agreement. President Trump also vetoed a two-party resolution that would have blocked U.S. sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for use in Yemen.
A similar emergency statement to promote F-35 sales can be difficult to defend. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the emergency statement last year as a “one-time incident.”
But Aaron David Miller, a former US Middle East peace negotiator, said it would be difficult for lawmakers to derail the F-35 deal even if they wanted to. “It is very difficult for Congress to take responsibility for blocking something that appears to be tied to [a peace agreement] promoting American national interest. ”
At home, Netanyahu has been criticized for not informing senior members of his government about what the agreements entail.
“No one knows what is in these agreements, but it is certainly not peace for peace,” said Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the left-wing Meretz party and member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
Horowitz, a leading spokesman for peace with the Palestinians, said there had been no discussion of the agreements in the government or in the Knesset and that Netanyahu had not even consulted his chief of staff, defense minister or foreign minister. “This has never happened before. Netanyahu just bypassed them all, “Horowitz said.
In addition to the F-35s, he said he was deeply concerned about the potential sale of advanced cyber systems to the UAE. “This is technology that can be easily transferred to or fall into the wrong hands,” he said.
DeYoung reported from Washington. Steven Hendrix of Jerusalem contributed to this report.