Netanyahu: UAE Deal Did Not Include U.S. Sale of F-35s

F-35
JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday denied Israeli reports as “utter fake news” the landmark agreement to establish diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates includes allowing Abu Dhabi to purchase the most advanced fighter jets and UAVs from the U.S.

“From the get-go, the prime minister objected to the sale of F-35 jets and other advanced weapons to any countries in the Middle East, including Arab countries that make peace with Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

“The prime minister expressed that consistent stance time and again before the U.S. administration, and that hasn’t changed,” the statement said.

The agreement does not include any weapons deals between Washington and Abu Dhabi, the statement said.

“The consistent opposition to the sale of F-35 jets was reinforced on June 2 after the head of the National Security Council [Meir Ben-Shabbat] spoke to Air Force Commander Amikam Norkin, at the prime minister’s request,” the statement said. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a press briefing that “we are not familiar with any defense-related promises as part of the deal with the UAE, and if there are they weren’t made with the consultation or knowledge of myself or the Foreign Ministry.

“The IDF’s military edge is one of the most important aspects of our security,” he added.

The UAE, among the world’s biggest defense spenders, has voiced its desire to purchase F-35s but a pledge made by the U.S. after the 1973 Yom Kippur War to preserve Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the region prevents it from doing so.

According to one report published in the Hebrew-language Yediot Aharonot daily, an arms deal to the tune of tens of billions of dollars was what convinced the UAE to go ahead and sign the normalization pact.

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told the KAN public broadcaster that he was unaware of such a stipulation.

“It didn’t happen,” Cohen said. “There was no discussion of authorizing such an article in the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet. I won’t approve a situation in which there is a change in Israel’s qualitative security advantage in the region.”

“Israel’s policy is to maintain its military advantage in the region. That is also our request of the US and it must respect that. The US also asks us not to conduct weapons sales to other countries and we respect it.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned about the reported sale of F-35s.

“It’s not good for Israel that the plane is going around in other places. We need to talk to the Emiratis, to the Americans, and make sure that our security interests are being upheld,” he said.

He added that neither he nor Finance Minister Gabi Ashkenazi were informed ahead of time about the UAE deal.

“I believe that it was improper that we weren’t updated. I know that I’ve never in my life leaked anything,” he said. “When I want to give a briefing, I call you [journalists]. Leaks are other people’s games.”

Following trilateral talks between the three countries Thursday, the White House announced that Israel and the UAE had signed an agreement to establish full diplomatic relations.

Netanyahu described it as a “historic moment of breakthrough for peace.”

“It marks the dawning of new era for Israel’s relations with the Arab world,” he said.

The deal marks the third Arab country to hold diplomatic ties with the Jewish state after Egypt and Jordan. Most of the Arab world does not recognize the existence of Israel.

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