Trump administration formally notifies Congress of sale of F-35 jets to UAE

The UAE, one of Washington's closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring F-35 jets (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  November 10, 2020

Deal includes sale of 50 F-35 fighter jets, 18 Reaper drones and thousands of bombs, totalling more than $23bn

The Trump administration has formally notified US Congress of its intention to sell dozens of F-35 advanced fighter jets, Reaper drones, as well as other military hardware and munitions to the United Arab Emirates.

The State Department announced the deal on Tuesday, which includes the sale of 50 F-35 jets, 18 MQ-9 Reaper drones with munitions, as well as a $10bn munitions package for air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. In total, the sale is worth $23.4bn.

“Today, I directed the Department to formally notify Congress of our intent to authorize the UAE’s proposed purchase of several advanced capabilities that are worth $23.37 billion,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a news release.

“This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran.”

The Washington Post reported that the munitions package included thousands of Mark 82 bombs, guided bombs, missiles and other arms.

Informal notification of the deal had been given to Congress last month.

If US lawmakers oppose the deal they have 30 days to produce a resolution to block the sale, though two-thirds of Congress would be needed to override a presidential veto.

Normalising ties with Israel

Reports of Washington’s plans to sell advanced stealth fighter jets to Abu Dhabi first surfaced in August, days after the UAE agreed to normalise ties with Israel in White House-brokered talks.

Until then, the US had not allowed any country in the Middle East to purchase the F-35, except Israel, out of concerns that the military equipment would damage Israel’s qualitative military edge, or QME.

QME is a legal requirement for the US to ensure Israel maintains military superiority in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly denied claims that he approved the sale, as well as the deliveries of advanced unmanned aerial vehicles and other weapons to the UAE.

In light of the proposed weapons sales, Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz travelled to Washington twice, and his US counterpart Mark Esper, who was fired by Trump on Monday, went to Israel once in the span of just over a month.

Through those visits the two allies laid out the general framework for a way in which the US would maintain Israel’s military advantage.

Earlier this month, Qatar also made a formal request for the advanced fighter jets in a deal that, if pursued, may strain US ties with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

On Monday, Amnesty International urged the US to halt the sale of drones to the UAE, saying that they could be used to further civilian casualties in Yemen and Libya.

“The startling fact that the United States government continues its unflinching support of providing weapons that risk adding to the devastating toll of Yemeni civilians… should shake to the core every person living in this country,” said Philippe Nassif, the advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty.

“The United States must resolutely refrain from supplying weapons that could be used in the conflict and not transfer weaponry to the UAE, or risk complicity in likely war crimes in Yemen.”