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US Democrat: Congress would back selling Riyadh weapons for Israel normalization

Congress member says any concerns over such sales, due to Saudis’ rights record, would be drowned out by Abraham Accords supporters

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

File: In this photo released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, welcomes US President Joe Biden to Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)
File: In this photo released by the Saudi Royal Palace, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, welcomes US President Joe Biden to Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)

WASHINGTON — A Democratic member of Congress said Monday that they and others in the party would likely object to the US selling advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia, even in exchange for Riyadh normalizing relations with Israel, but acknowledged that such opposition would presumably not be enough to block an agreement.

Speaking on condition of anonymity in order to address the sensitive subject candidly, the lawmaker speculated to The Times of Israel that, despite the ongoing concern among Democrats and some Republicans over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and energy policy, the skeptics would be far outnumbered by supporters of Riyadh-Jerusalem normalization in both parties.

The Abraham Accords is a rare issue that receives bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, with caucuses established last year in both houses of Congress in order to advance Israel’s integration in the region.

Seven lawmakers from the Senate’s Abraham Accords caucus traveled last week to the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Israel, where they met with leaders to discuss how the US could help advance the normalization deals that the three Arab countries signed with Israel in 2020.

One of those senators, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, told The Times of Israel that the US should urge Abraham Accords countries to invest in humanitarian projects for the Palestinians “in exchange for F-35s and other technology that they are desperate for that helps them create a regional missile defense [system] against Iran.”

The Trump administration agreed to sell the UAE 50 F-35 fighter jets in a side deal widely seen to have been crucial for pushing its normalization agreement with Israel past the finish line.

F-35 Lightning II Aircraft assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing, Burlington Air National Guard Base, prepare for takeoff, in Burlington, Vermont, April 13, 2022. (Staff Sgt. Cameron Lewis/U.S. Air National Guard via AP)

The Biden administration has criticized the sale, expressing concern that it puts Jerusalem’s military edge over other countries in the region at risk. It has not canceled the sale altogether, but negotiations have yet to reach a breakthrough.

Gillibrand, who sits on the Senate’s Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, indicated that selling such sensitive weapons to Saudi Arabia as well would be possible.

She clarified, though, that terms would have to be negotiated and that the US would have to ensure that its military technology would not be shared with China, which is seeking to build its influence in the region.

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