Netanyahu: UAE agreement did not include US selling F-35s

Gantz says Israel will not give up its qualitative military edge for peace; Israel is only country in Middle East to fly the advanced stealth fighter

ISRAELI F-35 takes off from an airbase in southern Israel (photo credit: AMIT AGRONOV/ISRAEL AIR FORCE)
ISRAELI F-35 takes off from an airbase in southern Israel
The agreement to formalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include allowing the latter to purchase F-35 fighter jets, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday, following reports to the contrary.
Furthermore, the agreement did not include any arms deals between the US and the UAE.
“To begin with, the prime minister opposed selling the F-35 and advanced weaponry to any countries in the Middle East, including Arab states that make peace with Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office statement reads. “The prime minister expressed this consistent stance time after time before the US government and it hasn’t changed.”
An American source involved in the matter said all components of the agreement were made public, meaning F-35 sales were not part of it.
Nevertheless, according to Yediot Aharonot, a senior Emirati source said that Netanyahu knew about the clause which would allow Washington to sell F-35s and advanced drones to the Gulf state and gave his approval to improve the military capability of the kingdom as part of the deal to normalize ties.
Netanyahu spoke with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on July 7 and said specifically that he expressed opposition. On July 8, Netanyahu sent a letter making that point to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, via Friedman, clarifying that his position stands even in the framework of drawing up peace agreements.
The prime minister updated Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on the matter on July 29.
On August 3, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and reiterated the Israeli position.
“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 PMO stated.
Gantz said that Israel will not take any risks to the country’s security in exchange for a deal with the UAE and that it was possible to make a deal with the Gulf country without risking Israel’s qualitative military edge.
“You can make a peace agreement while being responsible security-wise. Not only can you, but you must,” he said at a press conference shortly after being released from the hospital. “The agreement is important and can potentially contribute to desirable and strategic regional development. Israel’s resilience and future hinge on efforts along two lines: the effort to pursue peace as well as the uncompromising insistence on Israeli defensive superiority across the Middle East.”
Stressing that the F-35 “is the best combat aircraft in the world,” Gantz said that “it’s not a good idea that it will be in the hands of others” in the region and that Jerusalem will speak with Washington and Abu Dhabi.
“We will engage in dialogue with our counterparts in the UAE and in the US and ensure that our security interests are upheld. As long as I am defense minister, nothing will happen without being coordinated and defensively responsible,” he said. “We will make sure that our security in the region is not at risk.”
Earlier Tuesday, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Israel maintains its opposition to selling weapons that could threaten its qualitative military edge in the Middle East.
“It didn’t happen,” Cohen said.
“In my evaluation, there is no such article” in the agreement with the UAE, Cohen said in an interview with KAN. “There was no discussion of authorizing such an article in the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet.”
“Israel’s policy is to maintain its military advantage in the region,” he said. “That is also our demand of the US. It must respect the request. The US also asks us not to sell weapons we have to other countries and we respect it.”
“That is the stance I know; I don’t know of any change in policy,” he added, saying that he would oppose such a shift.
Asked if it’s possible there was a change he does not know about, just as Netanyahu did not inform Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi that the agreement with the UAE was on the way, Cohen said that Netanyahu only hid the timing from the Blue and White leaders.
“If there’s a decision to break the balance, it must be discussed” in the Security Cabinet, Cohen said.
In response to the report, former defense minister Naftali Bennett said that “Israel’s qualitative military advantage is at the heart of our security concept and is not a political matter. I am sure that the White House and Congress understand its importance to national security as well.”
In response to the reports, former defense minister and chief of staff Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon said that he was concerned about what has been hidden from the public and the defense minister in the agreement with the UAE.
“Netanyahu drafted a political agreement and a security deal while hiding it from the defense and foreign ministers and the cabinet,” the senior opposition official wrote on Facebook. “It is clear that if a state commission of inquiry had been set up, or at least an investigation into the ‘Netanyahu and ThyssenKrupp’ affair, and especially the approval given by the German government to sell advanced submarines to Egypt – behind the backs of cabinet, the defense minister and the chief of staff – then we might have been spared the current incident.”
Ya’alon was defense minister and Gantz was chief of staff in 2015, when Netanyahu allowed Germany to sell two advanced submarines to Egypt in exchange for a reported $500 million discount on Israel’s purchase of a sixth submarine from Germany. The deal was made without the knowledge of Ya’alon and Gantz on the grounds of state security.
The report also came as the head of Israel’s Air Force Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin is out of the country, in Germany for a joint drill between the two countries.
The UAE, which is among the world’s biggest defense spenders, is currently in the process of building up its armed forces and the UAE Air Force has made no secret that it is interested in purchasing the fifth-generation fighter jet.
But in November, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper was quoted by CNBC saying that there were no talks with the UAE to purchase the jet.
“No, no,” he said. “The question (of) are there any considerations or conversations about the F35 – the short answer is no.”
Israel was the second country after the United States to have received the joint strike fighter and is the only air force in the Middle East to fly the state-of-the-art aircraft.
The IAF was the first to use the F-35 in a combat arena in 2018, just months after it declared operational capability and, according to foreign reports, continues to use the jet for a range of missions.
Meanwhile, Mossad director Yossi Cohen met the national security adviser of the UAE during a visit to Abu Dhabi, UAE state news agency WAM said.
Cohen and Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed al Nahyan discussed ways in which to support the new accord.
“The two sides discussed prospects for cooperation in the security field, and shared perspectives on regional developments and issues of common interest, including both countries’ efforts to contain COVID-19,” WAM added.
Reuters contributed to this report.