Trump Admin considering selling F-35 to UAE despite Israeli objections

Harry Lye 21 August 2020 (Last Updated August 21st, 2020 10:55)

US President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday that a possible sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is ‘under review’ despite public objections from Israel.

Trump Admin considering selling F-35 to UAE despite Israeli objections
US Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, soars overhead during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 20-3 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Credit: Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Gue.

The comments follow the signing of a historic peace deal between Israel and the UAE, however, following the signing of the deal, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying that the peace deal ‘did not include’ Israel’s consent to any UAE-US arms agreement.

During the press conference, Trump said: “They would like to order quite a few F-35s; it’s the greatest fighter jet in the world, as you know, by far. Stealth. Totally stealth.”

Discussing the possible sale, Trump said that the UAE has ‘definitely got the money’ to afford the advanced fighter, adding: “They’d like to buy F-35s; we’ll see what happens. It’s under review, but they made a great — a great advance in peace in the Middle East.”

F-35s from the US Air Force (USAF) have in the past operated from the UAE, having been deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in early 2019.

Speaking on Thursday during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the deal meant “the [threat] of a war with Israel will no longer exist,” and as such should remove “any hurdle” to the UAE acquiring the fighter.

Gargash did add that the possible F-35 sale was not linked to the peace agreement signed with Israel.

However, any sale of the F-35 would not be quick, as US Foreign Policy commits the country to maintain Israel’s ‘Qualitative Military Edge’ (QME) which ensures that the country maintains military superiority over its neighbours in the Middle East.

Commenting on the QME, Netanyahu’s office added: “The peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates does not include any reference to arms sales and the US has made it clear that it will always take strict care to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge.”

Israel is currently the only power in the Middle East to operate the F-35, which the country has used in active combat. In addition, Israel is the only country to operate a bespoke variant of the F-35 with its modified F-35A, the F-35I Adir.

Netanyahu’s office said Israel said had consistently made clear its objection to the UAE acquiring the F-35, in its statement the Office of the Israeli Prime Minister listed several occasions in which the country had made clear its position on the F-35.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz tweeted that while he welcomed the agreement between Israel and the US when it came to normalising relations, he wanted to ensure that Israel’s ‘security supremacy’ was maintained.

Gantz said: “As long as I am the Minister of Defence, nothing will move here without coordination and in the absence of responsibility. The agreement with the United Arab Emirates is an important step and has great potential for regional and strategic development for the country, and I intend to ensure that our security supremacy is maintained the day after.”

During a press briefing yesterday, Undersecretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told reporter that the Department of Defence (DOD) questions on the possible sale to the UAE would have to go through the State Department.

Lord said: “I need to defer for all the questions on F-35 sales to the UAE to the State Department.

“However, I will say, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the region over the years in this role actively talking about F-16 upgrades, that has been an ongoing discussion that DSCA and the Air Force have worked on, but I need to ask you to go back to the State Department.”