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UAE reportedly signs for purchase of F-35s an hour before Biden sworn in

But new US administration has vowed to review deal, which was rushed through by Trump after Abu Dhabi agreed to normalize ties with Israel

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Two US Navy F-35C Lightning II jets fly in formation during an exercise out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, November 16, 2018. (US Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)
Two US Navy F-35C Lightning II jets fly in formation during an exercise out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, November 16, 2018. (US Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)

The United Arab Emirates reportedly signed an agreement to purchase 50 F-35s and 18 advanced Reaper drones from the US in what was Donald Trump’s final hour in the White House.

Democrats in Congress had sought last month to thwart what has been widely viewed as a side-agreement to the Israeli-UAE normalization deal brokered by the US. However, opponents failed to gain enough support on the Hill and the deal moved forward, leading to Wednesday’s signing reported by Reuters.

Shortly after the announcement of Abu Dhabi’s decision to normalize ties with Israel, reports emerged that in light of the agreement, the United States, which brokered the deal, had agreed to sell the fifth-generation fighter jet to the UAE, after years of denying requests to do so, largely over concerns that such a sale would negatively affect Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, which Washington is legally bound to maintain.

It was not clear what was the exact nature of the agreement signed Wednesday, though, and whether it represented the contract itself. A contract would be more binding and could place financial penalties on parties who fail to follow through with the deal.

That would be significant for new US President Joe Biden, whose nominee for secretary of state told Senators at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday he plans to take a “hard look” at the deal before moving forward.

In a November interview with The Times of Israel, Blinken panned the apparent “quid pro quo” nature of the F-35 sale that immediately followed the normalization agreement.

“The Obama-Biden administration made those planes available to Israel and only Israel in the region,” said Blinken, who served as Biden’s national security adviser, deputy national security adviser to the president and deputy secretary of state during the Obama administration.

Democrats have also grown uncomfortable with the idea of selling such advanced weaponry to the UAE, which has been heavily criticized for its role in the Saudi Arabia-lead offensive in Yemen.

The F-35s and Reaper drones were part of a $23 billion weapons agreement the Trump administration had negotiated with the UAE.

Illustrative photo of a US-made Reaper drone. (Dominique Faget/AFP)

Israel has officially said it has no connections to the UAE getting the stealth fighters after the US promised to supply Jerusalem with even more advanced equipment.

However, several Israeli military officials have expressed unease over the deal.

Because the transfer of such weapons takes years to come about, an incoming Biden administration could also block the deal, but there’s little precedent for a president to scrap such agreements made by a predecessor.

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