Gantz to take off for Washington to discuss F-35 sales to UAE

Defense minister expected to focus on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region as US eyes lucrative arms deals with Jerusalem’s new Gulf ally

Defense Minister Benny Gantz delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset, on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz delivers a statement to the media at the Knesset, on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to Washington, DC, Tuesday for a series of meetings with US Defense Secretary Mark Asper and other senior Pentagon officials, the Defense Ministry announced on Monday.

Gantz’s trip comes as the US is looking to sell ultra-advanced F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, and talks are expected to focus on Jerusalem’s stance toward the sale, which some fear may harm the Israeli regional military edge that Washington has pledged to uphold.

Under US law, Congress is tasked with vetting sales of arms to Middle Eastern countries against the rubric of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, a determination usually made via consultations between the Pentagon and Israeli defense officials. While Israel cannot veto a sale, it can throw up hurdles to make the deal more difficult and drawn-out.

Gantz initially expressed concern about the UAE acquiring the fighter jets, despite a recent normalization deal between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi. Last week, however, he appeared to soften his tone and said Israel’s objection would not hold much weight anyway.

“It is an American prerogative — not an Israeli prerogative — to decide whom to sell [the F-35 to],” Gantz said.

US President Donald Trump said in early September that he has “absolutely no problem” with selling advanced F-35 fighters to the UAE.

Israel has publicly opposed the US selling advanced firepower to its rivals on the grounds that it needed to preserve its military supremacy. The UAE, in particular, has sought the planes for years. Senior Emirati officials have said that they expect all barriers to their sale to disappear now that they have established open ties with Israel.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

“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],” senior UAE official Anwar Gargash said in August. “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.”

Gantz will also discuss joint security cooperation for reducing Iranian expansion in the region. He will remain in the United States for 24 hours, returning to Israel shortly before dawn on Thursday, according to a Defense Ministry statement.

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