Israel Still Opposes F-35 Sale to UAE, Despite Diplomatic Agreement, Senior Officials Say

The USMC's F-35B STOVL.

Israel had pressured the U.S. to block the sale of the advanced fighter planes in the past, but Israeli sources fear that Netanyahu and his confidants may have made a secret agreement without consulting defense officials.

Senior Israeli officials familiar with the moves to tighten relations with the United Arab Emirates told Haaretz Monday that the normalization agreements will not change Israel’s long-standing objection to the sale of American F-35 fighter jets to the Gulf state.

Since the announcement of the agreements being drawn up to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, several sources who had been previously involved in contacts between the two countries raised concerns that as part of the new understandings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have abandoned Israel’s traditionally vehement opposition to the sale of sensitive military equipment and technology to the UAE, particularly the F-35 advanced fighter jet. A plan for such a sale was blocked by the U.S. Congress in the past, under pressure from Israel and the Israel lobby in Washington.

Israeli opposition to Emirati F-35s doesn’t mean that the Jewish state opposes all U.S. arms sales to Abu Dhabi.

For decades the U.S. has maintained a delicate balance in which it sells arms to Arab states while simultaneously ensuring the Israel military does not lose its qualitative military edge over them. In the early 1980s, Israel feared the Reagan administration was compromising its edge by selling Saudi Arabia advanced E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes and lobbied against it, ultimately in vain.

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Israeli Drones For UAE

Israel might well sell the UAE drones in the near future. Israeli-built drones have already been exported to various countries including Azerbaijan, India, and Turkey.

The U.S. refusal to sell such an advanced fighter jet to any Arab country occasionally generates allegations of hypocrisy from the Arabs. 

Egypt could soon face U.S. sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) federal law for its recent $2.5 billion purchase of advanced 4.5 generation Su-35 fighter jets from Russia.

UAE, A Trusted Ally of America

The U.S. would most likely oppose such an arrangement since it could constitute a significant boon to the Russian defense sector and might even make it easier for Moscow to build and field its Su-57 fighters, a process it has found incredibly difficult and expensive to date. This doesn’t mean, however, that Washington would reconsider its refusal to sell the Emiratis F-35s.

The UAE is a major U.S. ally in the Middle East and a significant buyer of U.S. military hardware, earning the nickname ‘Little Sparta’ from U.S. defense officials. Also, the CIA doesn’t even spy on the small Arab nation, underscoring Washington’s trust in Abu Dhabi. 

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