Biden halts UAE F-35 sale in nod to Iran

Stephen Bryen

US President Joe Biden has halted the sale of F-35 stealth jets to the UAE, even though they were promised as part of the Abraham Accords.

The new administration has raised concerns the UAE might use these jets against the rebel Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis have no air force and only rudimentary air defenses. The UAE has a decently-sized air force made up of 77 F-16s and 63 Mirage 2000s.

The UAE operates with Saudi Arabian air assets against the Houthi insurgency in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has 42 F-15s , 74 light attack F-5s and 44 Tornado fighters. There have been a number of previous incidents where the Saudis and UAE have allegedly hit civilian targets, either on purpose or by accident.

Several Democratic congressmen and women have alleged that these attacks were human rights violations, although they seldom if ever complain about Houthi human rights violations or the frequent missile and drone attacks launched by the Houthis against UAE and Saudi targets.

In any event, the F-35 is mostly a worthless fighter when it comes to the Houthi insurgency. It is an air superiority fighter plane, not really a fighter bomber, and certainly far inferior to the F-15 for exacting damage in ground attacks. There is no reasonable case that the sale of F-35s has anything at all to do with Houthis, other than as a Biden administration punishment of the UAE.

Why would Biden want to punish the UAE and weaken the ability of Gulf states to confront growing Iranian regional power and Iran’s future acquisition of nuclear bombs and missile delivery systems?

Even if Biden changes his mind, the damage is already done. The UAE – not to mention Saudi Arabia – has now lost face in a Biden nod to Iran and seen its ability to counter the Iranian threat diminished.

Nuclear deal: Meanwhile, the Biden administration is moving to renew the JCPOA “agreement.” The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a detailed, 159-page agreement with five annexes reached by Iran and the P5+1 – China France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – on July 14, 2015.

The nuclear deal was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted on July 20, 2015, without any modification and most likely will lift economic sanctions on Iran, enabling it to continue its military buildup and atomic weapons program.

The Israelis are already deeply alarmed and, while not explicitly stated, if the administration goes ahead with its JCPOA plan the Israeli Air Force will likely attempt to take out Iran’s nuclear and missile assets, if given the go-ahead.

From an Israeli point of view, Iran is already close to an atomic weapons breakout, but US backing for JCPOA is likely to give the Iranians cover to really accelerate their nuclear drive. Starting last month, Iran was enriching uranium (U-235) at 20%. Once there is enough U-235 at 20%, it is relatively easy to increase the U-235 percentage to 95%, which is what is needed for an atomic bomb.

There is yet another consequence. Iran is pursuing different ways to make atomic weapons, using either a pure uranium bomb (like Hiroshima), boosted bombs (perhaps using thorium, which is available from North Korea), or alternatively building plutonium-based weapons.

Plutonium weapons require a complex triggering mechanism as opposed to a uranium bomb that can employ a much simpler gun-type initiator. Unlike the Nagasaki bomb that was plutonium-based, the Hiroshima U-235 bomb did not require testing because the mechanism was simpler.

The regional issue is whether to wait for Iran to have nuclear weapons or to pre-empt and destroy Iran’s weapons’ making facilities and missile launch platforms. Meanwhile, the Biden decision no doubt will confirm a looming Israeli view that the US administration is tilting to Iran and that the nuclear threat will get worse unless it is countered. In short, the Biden decision is destabilizing the region.