Israel to Ask U.S. for Arms to Offset UAE F-35 Sale: Report

Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II (Photo Courtesy Lockheed Martin)

Israel has concluded it can’t block the sale of American-made F-35 stealth fighters to the United Arab Emirates and will ask the White House for other weapons so it can maintain its regional military superiority, Yedioth Ahronoth reported, without saying where it got the information.

Officials may seek to purchase other advanced weaponry or move forward planned arms purchases by a year, the newspaper said.

The fanfare and talk of history that surrounded this month’s decision by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to pursue peace quickly gave way to acrimony that’s testing the pact’s limits.

And as is often the case in the Middle East, the bone of contention is military superiority.

With the ink on the agreement barely dry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UAE officials were sparring over the Gulf nation’s long-standing request to buy the advanced Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jet from the U.S.

As the spat rumbled on Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, on a visit this week to both allies, attempted unsuccessfully to square the circle on a diplomatic achievement the Trump administration wants to stick as November’s election nears. Washington was firmly committed to selling advanced weaponry to the UAE, he said, while reassuring Israel it was committed to maintaining its qualitative combat edge in the region as stipulated under U.S. law. Netanyahu wasn’t convinced.

F-35 for UAE

The UAE agreed to become just the third Arab state to normalize ties with the Jewish State; Israel suspended its plan to annex West Bank territory the Palestinians want for a state, and the U.S. would consider the UAE request for the F-35.

The arms deal with the UAE will soon be discussed in Congress. The normalization with Israel will be the reasoning by which the Trump administration hopes to obtain approval for the deal. Formally, the arms deal is not part of the normalization agreement. However, the three components of the American initiative are intertwined: denial of annexation, arms deal, and normalization.

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On the night between Thursday and Friday, the New York Times confirmed Yedioth Ahronoth’s revelation that Benjamin Netanyahu was in the secret of the Trump administration’s plan to sell a package of weapons to the Emirates, and even secretly agreed to sell F-35s to the country. Netanyahu himself has repeatedly denied the allegations, and his office said: “At no point in the talks between Israel and the United States that led to the historic breakthrough did Netanyahu give Israel’s consent to the sale of advanced weapons to the UAE.

Saudis wants F-35

Israel’s rapprochement with the UAE has been based largely on a shared distrust of Iran to which the U.S. is also party. But Israeli officials argue nothing is permanent in Middle Eastern diplomacy. Iran was an ally until the 1979 revolution yet is today considered Israel’s existential enemy. More recently, ties with Turkey have deteriorated during the long rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The peace deal with the UAE evolved out of already informal ties between Israel and the Gulf Arab states as mutual concerns over Iran’s nuclear and regional ambitions grew.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash rejected the idea that the F-35 would be a reward for the UAE’s understanding with Israel.

The F-35 “has always been a target” to meet the UAE’s defense needs and has been requested for six years, Gargash told an Aug. 20 event with the Washington-based Atlantic Council. He said the UAE also is seeking to upgrade its Lockheed F-16 aircraft.

Amos Yadlin, a former head of military intelligence who now directs the INSS in Tel Aviv, said that the UAE’s proximity to Iran could make it easier for Iranian agencies to collect intelligence on the F-35, which has much-valued stealth capabilities.

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