Trump Weighs F-35 Jet Sales to UAE Over Israeli Objections
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Aug 18, 2020)
WASHINGTON --- President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is considering selling advanced American F-35 warplanes to the United Arab Emirates over the objections of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump told reporters at a White House news conference that the Emiratis had expressed interest in buying "quite a few" of the stealth fighter jets. He said such a sale was "under review" given the new dynamic between Israel and the UAE since the two nations agreed to normalize relations last week. Perhaps just as important, Trump said, is that the UAE can afford to buy the planes.

"They have the money and they would like to order quite a few F-35s," Trump said. "It's the greatest fighter jet in the world, as you know, by stealth, totally stealth."

"They'd like to buy F-35s, we'll see what happens," Trump added. "It's under review, but they made a great advance in peace in the Middle East."

Netanyahu said Tuesday he would oppose the sale despite the historic UAE deal after an Israeli newspaper reported that the normalization accord that Trump brokered included language to supply the Arab Gulf nation with advanced U.S. weapons systems.

The Yediot Ahronot daily, citing American and Emirati sources, reported that Israeli acquiescence to the sales had clinched the deal for the Emiratis. Further, it reported that Netanyahu had made the deal behind the back of the Israeli defense establishment and kept Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both former military chiefs, in the dark about it.

In a statement(See below—Ed.), Netanyahu's office said the prime minister has opposed the sale of F-35s and other advanced weapons to any country in the Middle East, including Arab countries that have peace agreements with Israel.

Maintaining Israel's regional military supremacy has been a hallmark of Israeli policy for decades, and Israel has used its close ties with Washington to ensure that certain sophisticated weapons are not sold to neighboring countries. The UAE has long been reported to be interested in acquiring U.S.-made F-35 stealth fighter jets and attack drones like those the Israelis have.

Netanyahu said Gantz had been updated on his opposition to F-35 sales just weeks ago. But as part of his various corruption scandals, Netanyahu has been accused by critics of bypassing Israel's defense establishment in regards to a German sale of advanced submarines to Egypt.

In security-obsessed Israel, confirmation that military-related strings are attached to the deal could temper some of the excitement that has widely surrounded it thus far.

Gantz seemed to question Netanyahu's denial in a televised statement, saying he was only informed of last week's blockbuster accord after the fact. Gantz, who also serves as the alternative prime minister and is Netanyahu's chief coalition partner, is supposed to replace Netanyahu as premier next year. Gantz vowed to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge at any price.

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Prime Minister’s Office Statement on the Peace Agreement with the UAE
(Source: Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs; issued Aug 18, 2020)
The peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates does not include any reference to arms sales and the US has made it clear that it will always take strict care to maintain Israel's qualitative edge.

The historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include Israel's consent to any arms deal whatsoever between the United States and the UAE.

From the outset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed the sale of F-35s and other advanced weaponry to any country in the Middle East, including Arab countries that have peace agreements with the State of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed this position to the American administration and it has not changed. The consistent opposition to the sale of F-35s was reiterated on 2 June 2020 by the head of the National Security Council, who spoke with GOC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, at the request of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In his 7 July conversation with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Prime Minister Netanyahu was explicit in Israel's opposition to the sale of F-35s and other advanced weaponry to any country in the Middle East, including those with peace agreements with Israel. On 8 July, the Prime Minister sent a letter – via Ambassador Friedman – to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he reiterated that Israel's position remains unchanged even following the reaching of peace agreements.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz was updated on this position on 29 July.

On 3 August, on instruction from the Prime Minister, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer met with US Secretary of State Pompeo and underscored Israel's opposition to the sale of F-35s and other advanced weapons systems to any country in the Middle East.

The peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates does not include any reference to arms sales and the US has made it clear that it will always take strict care to maintain Israel's qualitative edge.

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UAE Statement on F-35 Aircraft
(Source: UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs; issued August 20, 2020)
“The UAE has been flying the most advanced model of the US-made F-16 for more than 15 years.

“Facing new threats and more sophisticated adversaries, the UAE will continue to upgrade and improve its air defense capabilities.

“The F-35 has been part of these plans for more than six years.

“With the signing of the new accord and the added assurances it provides, the UAE expects closer security cooperation among all three countries, including on air defense and systems.”


(EDITOR’S NOTE: On Thursday, Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, said at an Atlantic Council event that "the UAE has indicated that it wants F-35s. The first time we made this request was 6 years ago. We ought to get them. It should be easier to get them," Reuters reported Aug. 20, adding that “discussions about the F-35 are not connected to the deal with Israel.”

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