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Trump said to notify US Congress of F-35 sale to United Arab Emirates

$10 billion munitions package to include Reaper drones as well as thousands of bombs and missiles, Washington Post reports

Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet arrives at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vermont, September 19, 2019. (Wilson Ring/AP)
Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet arrives at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vermont, September 19, 2019. (Wilson Ring/AP)

The Trump administration has formally informed the United States Congress of its intention to sell dozens of F-35 advanced fighter jets and other military hardware to the United Arab Emirates, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The deal for the UAE to acquire the stealth F-35s has raised concerns in Israel that it would erode the country’s regional military edge, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drawing criticism for allegedly authorizing it in the context of Israel’s normalization with Abu Dhabi.

The package will include 50 F-35 jets, as well as 18 Reaper drones and thousands of bombs and missiles, according to the report.

If US lawmakers oppose the deal they have 30 days to produce a resolution to block the sale, though two-thirds of Congress would be needed to override a presidential veto.

Informal notification of the deal had been given to the Congress last month.

Reports of the US intention to sell F-35s to Abu Dhabi began to surface in August, days after the UAE agreed to normalize ties with Israel following negotiations brokered by the White House. It came as a shock in Israel, particularly to the country’s security establishment, which Netanyahu had excluded from the negotiations with Abu Dhabi.

Until then, the US had rejected requests from countries in the Middle East to purchase the F-35 primarily out of concerns that such sales would damage Israel’s qualitative military edge, or QME, which the United States is legally required to ensure remains intact despite any American arms sales in the region.

US President Donald Trump, center, with from left, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump, and United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, during the Abraham Accords signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, September 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The prime minister has repeatedly denied that he gave approval for the sale of the F-35, as well as advanced unmanned aerial vehicles and other weapons, as part of the UAE deal, or that there were secret negotiations to that effect. This has been publicly questioned by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and outright disputed by opposition party members.

At a meeting Monday of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to discuss the arms deal, committee member Nitzan Horowitz, the Meretz party leader, accused Netanyahu of knowing all along that the F-35 would be provided to the UAE.

“Netanyahu and his people knew and they also knew, before it was signed, that the plane deal was a central part of the [normalization agreement]. They just lied in order to bypass the defense establishment and prevent possible opposition,” Horowitz said.

In light of the proposed weapons sales to the UAE, Gantz traveled to Washington twice and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper came to Israel once in the span of just over a month in order to lay out the general framework for a way in which the US would ensure Israel’s military advantage.

US and Israeli officials have asserted the F-35 sale was not directly tied to normalization, but Trump officials have acknowledged that the deal with Israel placed the UAE in a better position to purchase the advanced aircraft, which only Israel has in the Middle East.

Netanyahu initially voiced opposition to the sale, but last month reversed his position, issuing a statement saying Israel would not oppose US plans to provide “certain weapon systems” to the UAE.

Days later the White House informally notified Congress of the proposed sale.

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