NEW YORK — Joe Biden’s top foreign policy adviser said Wednesday that the Democratic presidential candidate was unsettled by Trump administration plans to sell F-35 advanced fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.
We “have concerns about what commitments may or may not have been made to the UAE with regard to the F-35,” Anthony Blinken said during a press call with Jewish media organized by the Biden campaign.
Blinken noted that the Obama administration’s decision to sell the stealth aircraft to Israel had been aimed at ensuring the country’s military preeminence in the Middle East.
“The Obama-Biden administration made sure that our most advanced fighter plane would be available to Israel, but only to Israel in the Middle East, because we wanted to make sure that Israel was able to preserve its qualitative military advantage, and we have provided for the sale of some number of F-35s during our administration,” said Blinken, who served as deputy national security adviser under former President Barack Obama.
“And so reports that the administration has committed to provide these planes to the UAE is something we would look at very, very carefully, and make sure that the QME (Qualitative Military Edge) is preserved and also very important that Congress play a role,” he added.
Trump administration officials have sought to reassure Israeli leaders that any sale of F-35s will not harm Israel’s qualitative military edge. Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his American counterpart Mark Esper signed a “joint declaration confirming the United States’ strategic commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East for years to come.”
Though the agreement appeared to be a largely symbolic gesture as this responsibility for maintaining Israel’s QME is already enshrined in US law, the defense minister said in a statement that it does have real-world implications.
The deal is not believed to have included the sale of weapons, but a security official told The Times of Israel that a number of new platforms them are being considered for transfer to Israel.
Days after that declaration was signed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had rescinded its opposition to the US sale of F-35s to the UAE. The issue cause controversy in Israel with Gantz accusing Netanyahu of hiding the negotiations over the F-35s from him and the military. Netanyahu denied this.
Later in the call, Blinken lauded the Israel-UAE normalization agreement that was simultaneous with the proposed sale of the jets.
Biden “was very clear that having Arab countries recognize Israel, normalized with Israel, is a positive step that we should support and applaud,” Blinken said.
Commenting on the possibility of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel as well, Blinken told the Jewish Insider in a separate interview that a Biden administration plans to “undertake a strategic review” of the US relationship with Riyadh “to make sure that it is truly advancing our interests and is consistent with our values. But beyond that there is not much I can say at this point.”
Frustration with Saudi Arabia has grown in Washington in recent years, particularly among Democrats over the Saudi military campaign in Yemen and the brutal 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Blinken expressed hope that as more Arab countries normalize relations with Israel, Jerusalem will feel more secure and willing to also advance the peace process with the Palestinians as well — a view contradictory to that of the Palestinian Authority, which has maintained that only following peace with the Palestinians, can Israel then normalize with the rest of the Arab world.
US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that there are up to 10 countries that he expects to soon normalize relations with Israel, but that the developments would largely happen after next week’s presidential elections.
The foreign policy adviser said that additional normalization agreements may also be able to “send a message to the Palestinians that they have to actually engage, negotiate in a meaningful way.”
“Ignoring the Israel-Palestine dimension doesn’t make it go away — like the coronavirus, it’s not going to miraculously disappear,” Blinken said. “Of course this is not 2009, it’s not 2014, it’s not 2017. The parties are far from ready for any kind of negotiations toward final status. Right now, it’s hard to know exactly what situation the Biden administration would inherit. But I think, at the very least, [Biden] would want to make sure that neither side set back even further the prospects for eventually getting to negotiations.”
Also in the interview, Blinken reiterated the intentions of a Biden administration to re-enter the Obama-brokered Iran nuclear deal if Tehran returns to complying with it.
However, he reassured that even if Iran returns, leading to an easing of nuclear-related sanctions, a Biden administration would still keep non-nuclear related sanctions in place as “a strong hedge against Iranian misbehavior in other areas.”