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Emirates FM: F-35 not linked to Israel deal, but it should ease the sale

Gargash tells the Atlantic Council that request to purchase stealth fighter was made 6 years ago, he anticipates ‘a warm peace’ with the Jewish state

Israeli and American F-35 fighter jets take part in a joint exercise over southern Israel on March 29, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli and American F-35 fighter jets take part in a joint exercise over southern Israel on March 29, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The United Arab Emirates’ request to purchase F-35 stealth bombers from the United States was not part of a deal to normalize ties with Israel, but the agreement should remove “any hurdles” to their acquisition, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told the Atlantic Council on Thursday.

“The UAE has already indicated that it wants the F-35 six years ago. It’s already on the table. We have legitimate requests that are there, and we ought to get them,” Gargash said, adding that the sale was “not connected” to the deal signed with Israel last week.

“The whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel is over, so I think it should actually be easier [to purchase the fighter jet],” he said. “We feel that with the signing of this treaty in the coming weeks or months…that any hurdle toward this [purchase] should no longer be there.”

Gargash also predicted that the peace between the UAE and Israel would be “a warm peace.”

For years, the United States has denied requests by Arab states to buy advanced American weapons systems, in part due to a longstanding political doctrine involving Israel.

Following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the US Congress promised to preserve Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the Middle East by considering Jerusalem’s position before selling advanced weapons to the Jewish state’s neighbors.

That has prevented US President Donald Trump, who has cultivated warmer ties with Gulf nations, from signing major deals with the UAE. But that is no longer the case, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday, citing unnamed American and Emirati officials.

The report said that what had persuaded the UAE to sign the normalization pact was an agreement on a deal worth tens of billions of dollars, under which Abu Dhabi will get advanced F-35 jets, unmanned aircraft and other weapons.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash speaks on Channel 12 news, August 15, 2020 (Channel 12 screenshot)

The report cited unnamed sources estimating that the UAE crown prince and de-facto leader, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, had conditioned the entire deal on the inclusion of the weapons deal clause.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday denied the report, calling it “utter fake news.”

But on Wednesday, Trump confirmed that the US is reviewing the potential sale of F-35 stealth fighters to the UAE, amid reports the arms deal was an integral part of Abu Dhabi’s agreement last week to normalize ties with Israel.

Asked about the F-35 deal Monday night during a White House press conference, Trump said of the UAE: “They would like to order quite a few F-35s. It’s the greatest fighter jet in the world… They’d like to buy F-35s, we’ll see what happens. It’s under review.”

He added: “They’ve definitely got the money to pay for it. It’s nice because a lot of times when we make deals they don’t have 10 cents, these countries we deal with. We give to them, [saying] ‘How about paying this back later?’ But they never pay because they don’t have the money.”

US officials speaking to the New York Times Wednesday denied the potential F-35 sale was a reward to Abu Dhabi for the peace agreement with Israel, but they did acknowledge that efforts to clinch such a deal had been provided new momentum by the normalization agreement.

Channel 13 reported Wednesday that National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat in June asked Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin about the Israeli position on sales of F-35s in the Middle East. He mentioned vaguely that the US was looking at such potential sales.

In response to the Channel 13 report, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed the conversation took place, saying it was part of “an ongoing dialogue between military officials and the NSC on hundreds of issues.”

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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