Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Tuesday that the United States planned to sell top-of-the-line F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates as part of a $23.37 billion package.
The State Department sent a formal notice to Congress on the sale of the stealth precision planes, long sought by the Gulf Arab ally which won a green light after agreeing in September to recognize Israel.
Read more: In regional game-changer, US seeks to sell F-35 jets to UAE
“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 in a statement.
“Our adversaries, especially those in Iran, know this and will stop at nothing to disrupt this shared success,” he said.
Democratic lawmakers on October 29 had reported that the State Department had informally discussed the sale with Congress, which has the power to block arms sales.
⭕️👆:#US Secretary of State Pompeo confirms sale of up to 50 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to the #UAE, says Washington has approved the sale of a $23.37 billion package of advanced defense equipment to Abu Dhabi. #Israel #Iran #Palestine #GCC https://t.co/TNt6GWz4u9
— 🔴 Hasan Sari (@HasanSari7) November 10, 2020
The Democrats voiced mixed feelings, fearing that the sale would set off an arms race in the region and jeopardize Israel’s undisputed military edge in the region. But Israel dropped objections to the sale as it sought even more high-tech equipment from the United States.
Pompeo confirmed that the sale would include up to 50 F-35s — equivalent to the size of Israel’s fleet of the Lockheed Martin aircraft, which can be used to gather intelligence, conduct airstrikes and carry out air-to-air combat.
Read more: Israel ‘will not oppose’ advanced US arms sales to UAE, if the USA upgrades Israeli military
Pompeo said the sale would also include up to 18 MQ-9B advanced drones as well as $10 billion worth of air and ground munitions.
The notification comes five days before US elections in which Trump is trailing to Democrat Joe Biden. Congress, where the Democrats control the House of Representatives and are seen as having a substantial chance of winning the Senate, has the power to block the UAE sale.
“Rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest,” said Engel, a staunch supporter of Israel who was defeated by a Democratic primary challenger to his left. Engel voiced fear that the UAE sale would set off an arms race. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have also voiced interest in the F-35.
INBOX: Trump Administration notified the House Committee on Foreign Affairs today of its plan to sell F-35 aircraft to United Arab Emirates. @RepEliotEngel: "Congress must analyze all the ramifications. Rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest." pic.twitter.com/EKTufCc8dI
— Elizabeth Hagedorn (@ElizHagedorn) October 29, 2020
“Will the price for normalization with Israel be an infusion of advanced weapons? Is this wise?” he said. But weighing into the calculus for Israel and Trump is that the Emiratis largely share their view on who is their primary foe in the region — Iran. An embargo on conventional arms sales expired earlier this month on the clerical regime, which sees a threat from the US military presence around the region.
Read more: Will Israel be strongest military power in Middle East much longer?
The stealth F-35 “would allow Emirati pilots to penetrate Iranian defenses in response to hostile actions and execute precision strikes against threatening Iranian and proxy targets throughout the Persian Gulf region,” Lieutenant Colonel Christine McVann, a military fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a recent analysis.
NATO member Turkey, which has an increasingly tense relationship with Israel, was evicted from the F-35 program last year after it bought the S-300 air defense system from Russia.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk