The UAE and F-35s story isn’t over just because Israel doesn’t like it

Netanyahu is trying to show the public that he did his due diligence, making the Israeli view on the matter well known in Washington.

IAF, USAF hold joint F-35 drill in southern Israel (photo credit: IAF)
IAF, USAF hold joint F-35 drill in southern Israel
(photo credit: IAF)
The controversy over the possibility that the United Arab Emirates could purchase F-35 jets has continued despite a very firm denial by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And that’s because, well, Netanyahu doesn’t really have the final say here.
Following reports that such arms purchases will be part of the peace deal between the UAE and Israel, the Prime Minister’s Office released an unusually detailed statement, including a timeline of the multiple times that Netanyahu and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer raised their objections to the F-35 being sold to any other country in the Middle East, even if it has a peace treaty with Israel.
Netanyahu is trying to show the public that he did his due diligence, making the Israeli view on the matter well known in Washington.
“The historic peace agreement between Israel and the UAE does not include any agreement by Israel to any arms deal between the US and the UAE,” the statement reads. “And the US made it clear to Israel that it will always make sure to maintain Israel’s qualitative [military] edge.”
What the statement does not say – and really, could not say – is whether the US is going to sell F-35s and other weapons to the UAE anyway.
White House sources have also said that everything in the deal is public; there are no secret annexes about weapons sales. But again, that doesn’t preclude the signing of a different agreement to which Israel is not a party.
At several points in the past, the US has sold weapons to Arab countries despite Israel’s strong objections.
One difference between then and now is that Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) has been enshrined in US law since 2008. But what the law says is that Congress has to assess the extent to which Israel has the QME over military threats to it, and the president should use it to “inform the review” of such exports. Congress then has to certify that weapons sales “will not adversely affect Israel’s QME.”
In the end, Congress decides whether this is a QME issue – not Netanyahu.
The other big difference between then and now is that the US was selling to enemy countries, while this would be a deal with a country that has formal ties with Israel, has never been at war with Israel, and shares a common enemy – Iran.
Votes in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are unlikely to happen immediately, when a controversy could weaken the formal ties all three countries are so proud of orchestrating. But the US could decide at some point in the near future – say, next year – that peace is working out well and there is no danger to Israel in selling F-35s or other advanced weapons systems to the UAE.
IT SHOULD not come as a shock to anyone – certainly not to Netanyahu – that the UAE would expect to get some weapons out of this deal. The US modernized Egypt’s army after it made peace with Israel, and it continues to get American security assistance every year, a stipulation of that agreement. And Jordan got F-16 jets after making peace with Israel.
Unlike those countries, the UAE can afford to buy the weapons, which is all the more incentive for the US – especially under a president like Donald Trump who is loath to pay for other countries’ security – to give an arms deal the green light in conjunction with peace.
An unnamed UAE diplomat told KAN’s Amichai Stein on Wednesday that it expects Israel not to “oppose or prevent” any deals between Abu Dhabi and Washington “if and when” they take place. Plus, the diplomat said, their view is that Israel and the UAE face the same threats – meaning, Iran – and such sales will be good for both of them.
All this raises the question of whether Netanyahu knows about possible deals between the UAE and US that could weaken the QME, at least in the Israeli security establishment’s view.
The prime minister’s statements give him plausible deniability in terms of any specific weapons sales.
But it’s clear that the story of the UAE and F-35 jets is not over – and the way it will end does not depend on whether Israel likes it.