Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 6 December 2020

Israel won't block UAE buying F-35 stealth fighters

A deal with the US to upgrade the Israeli military will protect their qualitative edge, Defence Minister Benny Gantz says

An Israeli Air Force F-35 flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel. Reuters
An Israeli Air Force F-35 flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for pilots at the Hatzerim air base in southern Israel. Reuters

After hashing out a deal to secure new high-tech hardware from the US to upgrade the Israeli military, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Friday that it would not oppose the sale of “specific weapons systems” to the UAE.

For decades, the United States has committed to protecting Israel’s “qualitative military edge”, ensuring it has a technological and tactical advantage over any other Middle Eastern country.

As such, Washington consults Israel over arms sales in the region.

But even as Israel forges ties with Bahrain, the UAE and now Sudan under US mediation, it has emphasised the need to maintain the military advantage.

An F-35 pilot prepares for take-off from Vermont Air National Guard Base on May 22, 2020. US Air National Guard via Reuters
An F-35 pilot prepares for take off from the Vermont Air National Guard Base with the flag of the United States. Reuters, file

Washington has agreed to consider allowing the UAE to buy F-35 stealth jets in a side deal to a normalisation agreement between Israel and Abu Dhabi.

Mr Gantz did not specifically mention the joint-strike stealth fighter jet, the world’s most expensive weapons system. Israel operates the F-35.

But this week he finalised deals in Washington with US Defence Secretary Mark Esper for new hardware to equip the Israeli military.

“Since the US is upgrading Israel’s military capability and is maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, Israel will not oppose the sale of these systems to the UAE,” Mr Gantz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a joint statement.

Asked about potential F-35 sales to the UAE, US President Donald Trump said the “process is moving along”.

“We’ve never had a dispute with UAE; they’ve always been on our side. And that process is moving along – I think, hopefully, rapidly,” Mr Trump said.

His comments were made at the White House Oval Office announcement that Sudan would be the next country in the region to forge ties with Israel.

The removal of Israeli opposition clears one important hurdle to US congressional approval of F-35 sales to the UAE.

American politicians have expressed concern that plans by Mr Trump to sell the aircraft to the Emirates might not be welcomed in Israel.

Israel enjoys broad support in Congress, and if it opposed the deals it would be almost impossible for them to progress.

Updated: October 24, 2020 10:21 PM

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