JERUSALEM: Israeli officials believe the US and the United Arab Emirates are likely to seal an arms deal in the next few weeks that will see Washington supply the Gulf state with advanced F-35 stealth fighters, Channel 12 reported Saturday.
The unsourced report said Israel hopes to convince the US to “downgrade” the weaponry provided to Abu Dhabi, as preventing the sale altogether is seen as unlikely.
The report further said that with more normalization deals on the horizon between Israel and Arab states following this month’s landmark agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, Jerusalem believes the Trump administration could push for more American weapons deals with regional powers.
The US has repeatedly committed to Israel over the years to help ensure its qualitative military edge, or QME, over its neighbors on the battlefield, and is reportedly now seeking ways to ensure the sale doesn’t undermine that commitment.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz traveled to Washington this week for talks on the emerging deal.
According to a report earlier this week, Washington is also considering ways to assuage Israel’s concerns that its security could be jeopardized by the sale of the advanced jets.
One idea was to provide Israeli air defenses with technology that will be able to detect the UAE F-35s, report reveals.
The service reported that the US already reduces the performance of weapons platforms it sells to foreign governments to ensure they can’t compete head to head with American platforms. A similar reduction may be employed with the Emirati F-35s, the report speculated.
Since the Israel-UAE peace agreement was announced last month, Abu Dhabi has been open about its desire to acquire F-35 warplanes and other adv-anced US-made weaponry. Israel is the only US ally in the Middle East to possess the stealth fighter jet.
Senior Emirati officials have said that normalization with Israel should lift any remaining barriers to the sale.
Prime Minister Benjamin 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 Middle East.
Under US law, Congress is tasked with vetting sales of arms to Middle Eastern countries and weighing them against America’s QME commitments, a determination usually made following consultations between the Pentagon and Israeli defense officials. While Israel cannot veto a sale, it can raise concerns that could make it more difficult to seal a deal.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week she intended to ensure Israel maintains its military edge in the Middle East under any US arms sale to the UAE.
During his visit to Washington, Gantz was given similar assurances by Pentagon chief Mark Esper.
On Wednesday, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said it would likely take six to seven years before the UAE receives the F-35.