White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on Sunday said the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize diplomatic relations increases the chances the US will sell advanced F-35 stealth fighter jets to Abu Dhabi.
In an interview with CNN, Kushner acknowledged the potential sale of the planes has “come up as a political issue in Israel over the last week or so,” after reports said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the UAE’s purchase of the F-35s as part of the deal.
Netanyahu has denied green-lighting any US sale of the F-35 to the UAE. He has acknowledged that the US requested Israel’s position on the matter, but has insisted that Jerusalem never gave its approval to the sale. However, he has faced criticism from his Blue and White coalition partners after leaving them out of the loop and for not consulting with the defense establishment on the potential security ramifications.
Kushner said Iran was interested in preventing the UAE from acquiring the F-35s, as “they’re right across the Strait of Hormuz from there, and the reality is that this new peace agreement should increase the probability of [the UAE] getting it.”
Kushner, who is also US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, stressed that the administration was reviewing the matter.
“Obviously, we’ll look at the QME and we’ll do everything in accordance with the right standards, but it’s something that the State Department and US military is looking at,” he said.
Kushner was referring to the US Congress’s promise after the 1973 Yom Kippur War 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. This was codified in law in 2008.
He also said the UAE has been a “tremendous military party” for years, “so this is something we can see potentially happening now.”
The interview came before a trip to the Middle East that Kushner is expected to make later this week that will see him stop in Israel, Morocco and several Gulf states. He will be preceded in the region by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The F-35 is considered one of the most advanced aircraft in the world, with stealth capabilities as well as a powerful on-board computer that connects it to other aircraft in the sky.
For years, the US has denied requests by Arab states to buy advanced American weapons systems, in part due to the US promise to ensure Israel’s military superiority in the region.
That guarantee has prevented Trump, who has cultivated warmer ties with Gulf nations, from signing major deals with the UAE. But last week Yedioth Ahronoth, citing unnamed American and Emirati officials, reported that the UAE was persuaded to agree to the normalization pact thanks to a side-deal worth tens of billions of dollars, under which Abu Dhabi would purchase advanced F-35 jets, unmanned aircraft and other weapons from Washington.
Netanyahu denied the report, calling it “utter fake news.”
However, Trump later confirmed that the US was 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 to normalize ties with Israel.
US officials speaking to The New York Times on 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.
On Thursday, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told the Atlantic Council that Abu Dhabi’s request to purchase F-35 stealth bombers from the United States was not part of a deal to normalize ties with Israel, but that the agreement should remove “any hurdles” to their acquisition.
Following the Yedioth report, Gantz warned the proliferation of the F-35 fighter jet was “not good for Israel.”
Gantz also criticized the fact that he had been kept in the dark about the normalization agreement until it was announced. Netanyahu told the Israel Hayom newspaper that Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both of the coalition’s Blue and White party, were not informed of the deal, in order to prevent them from potentially leaking the information.
But the defense minister said he was willing to look past the apparent slight by Netanyahu and do what was needed to implement the agreement with the UAE.
Netanyahu and Gantz have been locked in a bitter coalition dispute that has brought the country to the brink of a new Knesset election — the fourth since last year — amid the unprecedented economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.