Don’t be fooled by the nondescript buildings of the Nevatim air base, deep in the Negev desert. Lately the facility in southern Israel has served as something like an advanced testing ground for the most state-of-the-art warplanes made in the West.
Take the American-made F-35 stealth fighter jet, which Israeli pilots flew over Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip in 2018—the plane’s first combat missions. Israel receives such weapons long before America’s other allies in the region, giving it a unique military advantage. But it may be losing some of that edge.
When Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to establish diplomatic relations on August 13th, it seemed like a straightforward deal. The countries had been moving closer for some time. Israel quietly works with the Gulf states to counter Iran. The UAE’s decision to become just the third Arab country to recognise Israel, despite its occupation of Palestinian lands, reflected these warmer ties.
There was more to it than that, however. It has since emerged that the UAE is in talks with America over an arms deal that will include weapons such as the F-35, which America has hitherto only sold to close allies.
This has not gone down well in Israel. Its prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, reportedly went along with the proposed arms deal in private as a way of smoothing the talks over diplomatic relations. He denied this when the deal became public last month, criticising it.
But the complaints stopped after a meeting with Mike Pompeo, America’s secretary of state, in Jerusalem. “Netanyahu may have said that he’s against selling F-35s in principle,” says Amos Gilad, a retired major-general in Israel’s army. “But he certainly gave America the impression that Israel wouldn’t try and block it.” (end of excerpt)
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