The United States is eyeing the sale of stealthy F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates in a side agreement to the UAE’s overtures to Israel, an industry insider who was part of the dialogue with government officials said on Wednesday.
A sale, which could reduce Israel’s military advantage in the Middle East, would come after Israel and the UAE said last week they would normalize diplomatic ties and forge a broad new relationship under an accord that U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Trump said the UAE was interested in buying F-35 fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp, which Israel has used in combat.
“They’d like to buy F-35’s, we’ll see what happens, it’s under review.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, citing a need to maintain Israeli military superiority in the region, said on Tuesday his country would oppose any U.S. F-35 sales to the UAE.
Any F-35 sale could take years to negotiate and deliver, giving a new U.S. presidential administration ample time to halt the deal. Poland, the most recent F-35 customer, purchased 32 of the jets, but will not receive its first delivery until 2024. Any sale would also need congressional approval.
The industry source said the prospective jet sale was arranged with the help of Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The Pentagon and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The potential F-35 deal was first reported by Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.
The United States guarantees that Israel receives more advanced American weapons than Arab states, giving it what is labeled a “Qualitative Military Edge” over its neighbors.
Under the accord with the UAE, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank. The agreement also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel and the United States view as the main threat in the Middle East.
The United States would ensure Israel maintains its regional military edge if U.S. F-35 warplanes are ever sold to the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. ambassador to Israel said in a Jerusalem Post interview on Wednesday.
Ambassador David Friedman’s remarks to the newspaper followed a report on Tuesday in another Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, that Washington planned to sell F-35s to the UAE as part of the Gulf country’s U.S.-brokered deal last week to normalise ties with Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel would oppose any such sales to the UAE, citing a need to preserve Israeli military superiority in the region.
On Israel’s Channel 13 TV, Israeli Education Minister Yoav Galant accused Netanyahu’s political rivals of spreading false allegations that UAE purchase of F-35s, aircraft already in Israel’s arsenal, was part of the normalisation deal.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Friedman as saying that while it was hypothetically possible the UAE would one day receive permission to buy F-35s, their manufacture and procurement “would take many years”.
Friedman said that as the UAE seeks more advanced weaponry “the QME process will kick in as it has before”, according to the newspaper.
He was referring to decades-old understandings under which Washington has refrained from Middle East arms sales that could blunt Israel’s “qualitative military edge”. This has applied to the F-35, so far denied to Arab states.
In the Channel 13 interview, Galant said Israel and the United States had differed in the past over U.S. arms sales in the region.
“They sold the F-15 (fighter jet) to the Saudis years ago. We also didn’t like that at the time,” Galant said.
“But all these years, the United States maintained our qualitative edge. That means, when others had the F-15e, we had the F-15i – a grade above,” he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he expected Saudi Arabia to join the agreement announced last week by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize diplomatic ties and forge a broad new relationship.
“I do,” Trump replied when asked at a White House news conference if he expected Saudi Arabia to join the deal.
Under the accord, which Trump helped broker, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank. The agreement also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel and the United States view as the main threat in the Middle East.
In Saudi Arabia’s first official comment since the agreement was announced, its foreign minister said on Wednesday the Sunni kingdom remained committed to peace with Israel on the basis of a 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
Saudi Arabia, which does not recognize Israel, drew up the initiative by which Arab nations offered to normalize ties with Israel in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.
Earlier in the news conference, Trump called the UAE-Israel accord a good deal and said “countries that you wouldn’t even believe want to come into that deal.” He did not name any other countries besides Saudi Arabia.
Trump also said the UAE was interested in buying F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin Co, which Israel has used in combat.
“They have the money and they would like to order quite a few F-35s,” Trump said.
The United Arab Emirates’ accord to normalise ties with Israel should remove “any hurdle” for the United States to sell the F-35 stealth fighter jet to the Gulf Arab state, a senior Emirati official said on Thursday.
The United States has sold the F-35 to allies including Turkey, South Korea, Japan, and Israel, but sales to the Gulf require a deeper review due to U.S. policy for Israel to maintain a military advantage in the Middle East.
“We have legitimate requests that are there. We ought to get them … the whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel no longer exists,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in an online interview with the Atlantic Council.
However, he said the UAE had not made any new requests to the Americans since the deal with Israel.
The Gulf state, one of Washington’s closest Middle Eastern allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the fighter jet made by Lockheed Martin Corp, which Israel has used in combat.
An industry insider has told Reuters the United States is eyeing the sale of F-35s to the UAE in a side agreement to the UAE-Israel deal.
However, any F-35 sale could take years to negotiate and deliver, while Israel’s prime minister has said his country would oppose any sale, citing a need to maintain Israeli military superiority in the region.
Washington guarantees that Israel receives more advanced American weapons than Arab states, giving it what is labelled a “Qualitative Military Edge” over its neighbours.
“The UAE expects that its requirements will be accepted and we feel that with the signing of this peace treaty in the coming weeks or months … that any hurdle towards this should no longer be there,” Gargash said.