Could the UAE acquire F-35s after Israel normalisation deal?

Could the US reward the UAE with F-35 jets in return for normalisation with Israel?
3 min read
18 August, 2020
Israel opposes US arms sales to Arab states that could challenge its military superiority in the region, but the UAE's new deal with Israel could break the status quo.
Turkey was denied access to the sought-after jet last year [Getty]
Last week's landmark agreement to normalise relations between Israel and the UAE has sparked speculation that the US may sell F-35 jets and other advanced arms to the Gulf state.

Washington has for decades refrained from selling advanced military equipment to Arab states in order to avoid blunting Israel's military superiority, or "qualitative military edge", in the region.

The US-manufactured F-35 jet has not yet been sold to any Arab state, while Israel operates 20 F-35s.

Turkey was earlier due to become the second country in the region to acquire the advanced jet but was ultimately booted from the F-35 joint strike fighter program last year after purchasing the S-400 air defence system from Russia.

Washington has not yet commented on speculation that last week's Israeli-Emirati normalisation accord could break the status quo of arms sales in the region.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said last week that "the more the Emirates become a friend of Israel, become a partner of Israel, become a regional ally of the United States, I think obviously that alters the threat assessment and could work out to the Emirates' benefit" with regards to arms sales, however.

In May, the US State Department agreed to a possible sale of more than 4,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to the UAE.

A number of Israeli officials have however denied agreeing to a "giant" sale of F-35s to the UAE, as reported by the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper.

Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said on Monday that the US-brokered negotiations with the UAE had included no reference to the "qualitative military edge" policy.

"In the talks [on the UAE normalisation deal], Israel did not change its consistent positions against the sale to any country in the Middle East of weapons and defence technologies that could tip the [military] balance," the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

"The peace agreement with the UAE does not include any article on the matter and the US made clear to Israel that it will always make sure to protect Israel's qualitative edge," the prime minister's office added.

Palestinians of all political leanings – from the secular Fatah of Mahmoud Abbas to the Hamas Islamist – have been unanimous in their condemnation of the deal, viewing the UAE as sacrificing the Palestinian cause to gain commercial relations with Israel.

While the agreement supposedly delays Israel's plans to unilaterally annex large swathes of the West Bank and Jordan Valley, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly urged that annexation will only be delayed.

Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia - also a close US ally - has been conspicuously silent on the deal with no official reaction emerging from Riyadh.

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