The US will find a way to balance helping its military ally the United Arab Emirates without weakening Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Monday. The remarks came amid controversy in Israel over whether Washington will sell F-35 stealth jets to Abu Dhabi, now that Israel and the UAE have diplomatic relations.“The US has legal requirements with respect to the QME, and we will respect that,” Pompeo said. “We have a 20-plus-year security relationship with the UAE as well.”Without mentioning F-35s or any other systems by name, Pompeo said the US wants to “make sure we are delivering the equipment [the UAE] needs to defend themselves from the... threat of the Islamic Republic” of Iran.But he said he is “sure we’ll find a way” to do so while ensuring Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the normalization deal with the UAE “did not include Israel’s acceptance to any arms deal. I don’t know of any arms deal that has been agreed upon but our position hasn’t changed.”The prime minister added that he reiterated his objections to Pompeo, who said he is strongly committed to maintaining Israel’s QME.“That has been true over four decades of peace with Egypt and two and a half decades of peace with Jordan. The US has stood by that and I have no doubt will continue to do so,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) lands in Israel ahead of a visit to several Middle Eastern and Gulf countries, August 24, 2020 (Credit: MATTY STERN/US EMBASSY JERUSALEM)Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz emphasized after his meeting with Pompeo the need to maintain Israel’s QME, in light of statements by White House officials that the US is considering selling F-35s to the UAE now that it has formal ties with Israel.The QME is “a necessary condition for regional stability and for Israel’s security when facing the challenges of the Middle East,” he said.A day earlier, White House special adviser Jared Kushner said on CNN that “this new peace agreement should increase the probability of [the UAE] getting [F-35s]."In the past week, talk of the UAE purchasing the planes has raised questions as to whether the prime minister knew it would happen soon after normalization – which he denied on Monday – and criticism of Netanyahu for not informing Gantz, who is also defense minister, of the matter.Pompeo and Netanyahu also addressed the US move to trigger “snapback sanctions” on Iran, which would stop the UN arms embargo on the Islamic Republic from running out in October. The other parties to the Iran nuclear deal say the US is not authorized to do so, because it left the framework in 2018. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a separate document from the UN Security Council resolution instituting the snapback mechanism, which states that any permanent UNSC member can trigger the continuation of sanctions.Netanyahu commended the US for having “stood up to Iranian aggression” by calling on snapback sanctions, warning that it would be “outrageous” for the world to allow the arms embargo to run out, facilitating its regime in obtaining “tanks, aircraft missiles and anti-aircraft defenses to continue its campaign of aggression in the region and the world.“It’s just absurd,” he said.Netanyahu pointed out that Gulf states are as strongly opposed to the end of the embargo as he is.“I suggest to our friends, especially our European friends at this point, that when Arabs and Israelis agree on something, it makes sense to pay attention,” he said.Pompeo said the US will “use every tool we have” to ensure Iran does not attain nuclear weapons, and he is confident they will succeed.“We think its in the best interest of the whole world. Many leaders tell me so privately. It’s time to stand up... Iran is on the cusp of having access to those weapons and the money,” he said. Last week, Pompeo specified that the leaders of the UK, France and Germany made those remarks privately.The US decision to trigger snapback sanctions on Iran is “necessary to maintain stability in the Middle East,” Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said after meeting with Pompeo. “Iran cannot be allowed to import and export arms, and all the sanctions must be brought back.”Netanyahu and Pompeo lauded the UAE-Israel deal, with the prime minister calling it “the alliance of the moderates against the radicals” and “a boon to peace and regional stability.”The prime minister expressed hope that more nations will formalize their ties with Israel, saying there may be “good news in the near future.”Pompeo’s itinerary for this week includes Sudan and Bahrain, two countries with which Israel’s ties have warmed recently and could follow in the footsteps of the UAE, which the secretary of state also plans to visit.Ashkenazi also brought up the issue of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), whose mandate is coming up for a renewal vote in the Security Council. The US has threatened to veto the renewal, abolishing UNIFIL if its mandate is not changed to make it more effective in combating Hezbollah’s presence in southern Lebanon.“We cannot allow UNIFIL not to fulfil its mandate fully and effectively. The American stance on this matter is important and will lead to practical implementation” of the mandate, Ashkenazi said.Pompeo courted controversy, filming an address from an “undisclosed location” in Jerusalem, which will air at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.The State Department said Pompeo “will address the convention in his personal capacity. No State Department resources will be used. Staff are not involved in preparing the remarks or in the arrangements for Secretary Pompeo’s appearance. The State Department will not bear any costs in conjunction with this appearance.”Democratic Majority for Israel criticized Pompeo, tweeting: “By violating another vital norm – speaking to the RNC from Israel – [Pompeo] is helping [Trump] further degrade American government, just as their never-ending effort to politicize Israel damages that country. Trump and Pompeo care only about themselves, not the US, not Israel.”Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer said “by arranging for Secretary Pompeo to speak to the RNC while on official travel in Jerusalem, Trump is once again using Israel to score political points.“Jewish voters see through this cheap political stunt and reject Trump’s ongoing use of Israel as a political wedge issue,” Soifer added. “The US-Israel relationship has been, and should remain, a bipartisan issue and... US taxpayers should not pay for politicized State Department activity in Israel.”