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Netanyahu says US freeze of F-35 sale to UAE won’t dent normalization

‘We’re past the point of no return,’ says PM on ties between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi

(L-R) UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and US President Donald Trump, wave on the South Lawn of the White House after they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)
(L-R) UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and US President Donald Trump, wave on the South Lawn of the White House after they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that the decision by US President Joe Biden’s administration to temporarily suspend its sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates — a deal clinched after the Gulf state agreed to forge ties with Israel — won’t harm the new diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi.

“It won’t affect them, we’ve passed the point of no return,” Netanyahu said in response to a question on the US move, during a brief press conference broadcast on his Facebook page.

“Everyone understood that this was a historic step and that there were enormous benefits here,” he said of the deal. “It’s somewhere else already. I think it’s going to move forward.”

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that it had put a temporary hold on several major foreign arms sales initiated by former US president Donald Trump, including the deal to provide 50 F-35 advanced fighter jets to the UAE, which was fast-tracked by Washington after Abu Dhabi agreed to normalize relations with Israel.

In addition to the massive $23 billion transfer of stealth F-35s to the UAE, another deal being paused is the planned major sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia. Both sales were harshly criticized by Democrats in Congress.

Anthony Blinken speaks at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware, November 24, 2020. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“When it comes to arms sales, it is typical at the start of an administration to review any pending sales, to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said later Wednesday at a press briefing.

The Trump administration’s announcement on the F-35 sale came shortly after the Republican president lost the November 6 election to Biden and followed the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE, under which the Arab states agreed to normalize relations with Israel.

The deal was approved by the UAE during Trump’s final hour in the White House, a US official revealed.

“We very much support the Abraham Accords. We think that Israel normalizing relations with its neighbors and other countries in the region is a very positive development,” Blinken said Wednesday.

“We’re also trying to make sure that we have a full understanding of any commitments that may have been made in securing those agreements, and that’s something we’re looking at right now,” he added.

From left to right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan are seen on the Blue Room Balcony after signing the Abraham Accords, at the White House, September 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Israel and the UAE signed a US-brokered normalization deal in September. The Trump administration formally notified Congress of its planned weapons sale to Abu Dhabi two months later.

On the record, the three countries have insisted that the arms deal was not part of negotiations that brought about the so-called Abraham Accords.

But Trump officials have acknowledged that the agreement put Abu Dhabi in a better position to receive such advanced weaponry, and a source with direct knowledge of the talks told The Times of Israel that both the US and Israel knew that the arms deal was “very much part of the deal.”

Israel announced in October that it would not oppose the sale, an about-face from its previous opposition to the deal on the grounds that it would harm the Jewish state’s military edge in the region. That decision came after meetings held between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his US counterpart at the time, Mark Esper, at the conclusion of which the sides signed an agreement further codifying Washington’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s federally-protected military edge in the region.

Jacob Magid and agencies contributed to this report.

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