US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized on Monday that America was committed to maintaining Israel’s military superiority in the region while appearing to hint at an impending deal by which the Trump administration would provide the United Arab Emirates with advanced fighter jets.
“The United States has a legal requirement with respect to qualitative military edge, and we will continue to honor that,” Pompeo said in a statement to the press delivered alongside Netanyahu in Jerusalem. “We have a 20-plus-year security relationship with the United Arab Emirates as well, where we have provided them with technical assistance and military assistance and we will now continue to review that process.
“We will continue to make sure we are delivering them with the equipment that they need to secure and defend their own people from this same threat,” Pompeo said, referring to Iran.
“We are deeply committed to doing that and achieving that and will do it in a way that preserves our commitment to Israel as well,” said Pompeo, who visited Israel at the start of a regional trip also intended to encourage other states to follow the UAE and normalize ties with Israel.
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.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner on Sunday said this month’s breakthrough 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.
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.
Netanyahu, in his comments to reporters Monday, insisted that the August 13 normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates did not include “acceptance” by Jerusalem of an arms deal between Washington and Abu Dhabi.
“This deal did not include Israel’s acceptance of any arms deal and I don’t know of any arms deal that has been agreed upon. It may be contemplated. Our position hasn’t changed,” Netanyahu said. “But I also learned again from Secretary Pompeo a very strong commitment that the US will preserve Israel’s qualitative edge.”
Both Pompeo and Netanyahu criticized the lack of international support for the US demand for the restoration of UN sanctions against Iran. The Trump administration has been pushing at the UN Security Council to have so-called “snapback” sanctions imposed on Iran over what Washington says is Iran’s violation of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. US allies and foes have joined forces to declare the action illegal and doomed to failure.
Netanyahu said the agreement between Israel and the UAE was a “boon to peace and regional stability” and that there was a possibility other countries could follow suit.
“It heralds a new era where there are other nations that could join. We discussed this and I hope we will have good news in the future — maybe in the near future,” the prime minister said.
Israel and the UAE announced on August 13 that they were establishing full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal that also required Israel to suspend its plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
“I am hopeful that we will see other Arab nations join in this,” Pompeo said, referring to normalization. “The opportunity for them to work alongside, to recognize the State of Israel and to work alongside them, will not only increase Middle East stability, but it will improve the lives for the people of their own countries as well.”
Pompeo arrived in Israel on Monday, kicking off a five-day visit to the Middle East focused on Israel’s normalizing of ties with the United Arab Emirates and pushing other Arab states to follow suit.
Pompeo met later in the day with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. Following their meeting, Gantz said: “We will continue to lead, in tandem with the United States, an uncompromising line toward Iran, which is continuing to develop nuclear weapons and arm militias across the Middle East.”
The defense minister said Iran was “a danger to the world, to the region, and to Israel” and vowed to act “across diplomatic, defense and economic lines, and respond with force and determination” to the threat it poses.
Ashkenazi said sanctions on Iran were “imperative to maintaining regional stability” and thanked Washington for its leadership in the face of the threat posed by the Islamic Republic.
From Israel, Pompeo will fly to Sudan and from there to Bahrain, before traveling to Abu Dhabi for talks with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on the Israel-UAE agreement and other regional issues, according to the State Department. Officials said stops in Oman and Qatar are also possible.
Pompeo will be followed to many of the same destinations later in the week by White House adviser Kushner, diplomats said.
Neither Pompeo’s nor Kushner’s trips are expected to result in announcements of immediate breakthroughs, but both are aimed at building on the success of the Israel-UAE agreement by finalizing at least one, and potentially more, normalization deals between Arab countries and Israel in the near future.
Israeli officials have long expressed a wish for better relations with Sudan, citing its importance in the region as well as its geographic location. The nation was the birthplace of the Arab League’s 1967 policy refusing negotiations or normalization with Israel, but in recent years it has seemingly softened its stance, moving out of Iran’s sphere of influence as it has desperately sought the removal of US sanctions as a supporter of Hamas, Hezbollah and other terror groups.
However, removal from the terrorism list is also dependent on completion of a compensation agreement for victims of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A tentative deal struck several months ago still awaits finalization.
Besides Sudan, other countries that could follow the UAE in normalizing ties with Israel are Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco. However, Morocco’s leader said Sunday that his country “refuses” to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.