The U.S. State Department on Tuesday notified Congress of its plans to sell 50 stealth F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates as part of a wider arms package worth over $23 billion, with the goal of deterring Iran.
The deal raised concerns in Israel as well as by congressional Democrats, who fear that it would mean Jerusalem would harm the balance of military power in the region. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., introduced legislation that would condition such arms sales on a number of factors, including signing a normalization accord with Israel and consulting the U.S. on the weapons’ use.
The bill stipulated the arms would also require modification allowing Israel to identify and track them.
“The Trump Administration has made it clear that they’ll put lethal weaponry in just about anyone’s hands without regard to potential loss of life so long as the check clears. So it’s up to Congress to consider the ramifications of allowing new partners to purchase the F-35 and other advanced systems.” Engel said in a statement released last week.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the agreement came in the wake of the UAE’s decision to sign the Abraham Accords with Israel normalizing ties.
Israel and the UAE’s top diplomats visited the Holocaust Memorial in central Berlin on Tuesday, in a “historic” first meeting between the newly allied foreign ministers. https://t.co/8hLeZ5g1MI
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“This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement.
He reiterated the arms deal would be “fully consistent” in maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.
“The UAE’s historic agreement to normalize relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively transform the region’s strategic landscape,” Pompeo said. “Our adversaries, especially those in Iran, know this and will stop at nothing to disrupt this shared success.”
“Today’s announcement echoes the enhanced defense cooperation we embarked upon with Egypt in the wake of the 1979 Camp David Accords, as well as our closer security relationship with Jordan following its normalization of ties with Israel in 1994,” Pompeo said. “Together, we are committed to securing the success of the Abraham Accords.”
The Emirati envoy to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba, said talks with the U.S. on sale only came after the normalization agreement, corroborating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim in the wake of the normalization deal announcement in August.
WOW! The first flight carrying Israeli tourists to the United Arab Emirates landed Sunday in the city-state of Dubai, the latest sign of the normalization deal reached between the two nations. https://t.co/vKI75qsO8J
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“That conversation began after the Abraham Accords,” he told Israel’s Channel 12, adding that the UAE had been attempting to purchase the stealth jets for six years and the Abraham Accords finally created an “opening” for it to happen.
According to Otaiba, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz agreed to the sale after US officials ensured it wouldn’t negatively impact Israel’s military edge in the region.
The package includes 50 F-35s worth $10.4 billion, 18 advanced armed Reaper drone systems worth $2.97 billion and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions to the tune of $10 billion.