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UAE said to scrap meet with Israel, US envoys after Netanyahu panned F-35 deal

Emiratis also reportedly plan to refrain from additional high-level meetings with Jerusalem until prime minister clarifies position on prospective US arms agreement

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and UAE's deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 24, 2016. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool photo via AP/File)
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and UAE's deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 24, 2016. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool photo via AP/File)

The United Arab Emirates reportedly canceled a trilateral meeting with Israel and the US last week in retaliation against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public opposition to Washington’s brewing sale of F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi.

A New York meeting of the three countries’ UN envoys celebrating the normalization of Israel-UAE ties had been scheduled for Friday, the Walla news site said in a report Monday.

But in the lead-up to the gathering, Netanyahu spoke out against the US sale of advanced weaponry to the UAE, following reports that he had agreed to pull opposition to the deal in exchange for normalization.

Israel fears allowing the UAE to obtain the ultra-advanced stealth jet fighters will compromise its military edge in the region, which the US has pledged to uphold.

In response to Netanyahu, the UAE officials decided to send a message to Netanyahu and convey their “disappointment” by canceling their participation, Walla reported, citing three sources familiar with the matter.

The Gulf state will also hold off on other high-level meetings with Israel until Netanyahu’s position is clarified, the report said.

If true, the reports would put a damper on giddy hopes for a flourishing open friendship between Israel and the UAE, which is only the third Arab state in the region to agree to normalize ties with the Jewish state.

Israeli and American F-35 fighter jets take part in a joint exercise over southern Israel on March 29, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The prime minister has denied that a prospective F-35 sale was part of the normalization agreement. Top US officials have conceded that they are in talks with Abu Dhabi regarding an arms deal and that the Israel-UAE deal makes such a sale more likely.

However, both Washington and Abu Dhabi have asserted that their respective negotiations began well before the normalization effort was launched.

Regardless, officials in the UAE involved in the matter had been under the impression that Netanyahu would avoid speaking out publicly against the deal, regardless of whether he opposed it privately, Walla reported.

Abu Dhabi was also displeased with the Israeli premier’s assertion that he had no knowledge of the deal and that he would act to oppose it — by raising the issue with members of Congress.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Netanyahu earlier Monday and emphasized that Washington was committed to maintaining Israel’s military superiority in the region, while appearing to hint at the impending F-35 sale.

“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 are deeply committed to doing that and achieving that and will do it in a way that preserves our commitment to Israel as well,” Pompeo said.

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. The pledge was later codified in law, though neither Congress nor Israel can actually block the sale, only put up hurdles.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in Jerusalem, on August 24, 2020. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The F-35 is considered one of the most advanced aircraft in the world. Israel has thus far received at least 16 of the aircraft, with dozens more set to be delivered in coming years.

Netanyahu, in his comments to reporters Monday, insisted that the agreement with the United Arab Emirates did not include “acceptance” by Jerusalem of an arms deal between Washington and Abu Dhabi.

Pompeo is in Israel before embarking on a regional swing to push more countries to normalize ties with Israel. From Tel Aviv, he 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.

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