Gantz heads to US to discuss F-35 sales to UAE

JERUSALEM (AP): Defense Minister Benny Gantz headed to Washington on Monday for talks with his US counterpart on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East following its historic normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

Since the agreement was announced last month, the UAE has made no secret about its desire to acquire F-35 warplanes and other advanced US-made weapo-nry. Israel is the only US ally in the Middle East to possess the stealth fighter jet.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu initially said he opposed the sale of the planes to any other nation in the region, even an Arab country at peace with Israel. But since then, he has softened his line, signaling he will trust the US to honor its commitment to ensure Israel’s military edge in the region, even if the UAE obtains F-35s.

Gantz’s office said he would meet with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other top Pentagon officials. It said the trip would include “meetings to discuss maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge, international policy vis-a-vis Iran and strategy for stopping its expansion and entrenchment in the Middle East, as well as discussion on defense cooperation and procurement.”

Under US law, Congress is tasked with vetting sales of arms to Middle Eastern countries against the rubric of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, a determination usually made via consultations between the Pentagon and Israeli defense officials. While Israel cannot veto a sale, it can throw up hurdles to make the deal more difficult and drawn-out.

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