Suspension of the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates will not undermine the peace deal with Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
“I think we are passed the point of no return,” Netanyahu said during a visit to the Negev. “Everyone understands that there are huge advantages here. It’s peace in exchange for peace... I think it will move ahead.”
The US Department of State announced on Wednesday that it would halt the arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia until further review.
Speaking at a news conference at the State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that when it comes to arms sales, “it is typical at the start of an administration to review any pending sales, to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy, so that’s what we’re doing at this moment.
“We very much support the Abraham Accords, we think that Israel normalizing relations with its neighbors and other countries in the region is a very positive development, and so we applaud them, and we hope that there may be an opportunity to build on it in the months and years ahead. We’re also trying to make sure that we have a full understanding of any commitments that may have been made in securing those agreements, and that’s something we’re looking at right now.”
Ambassador Dennis Ross, William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute, told The Jerusalem Post that “it is fairly typical of new administrations to review big arms sales that its predecessors have committed to doing.
“Reagan, for example, reviewed the Carter administration decision to provide AWACS to Saudi Arabia, and then proceeded to make the sale. It looked at the need and the justification for the sale and then went ahead with the deal.”
Ross noted that the F-35 is a high-profile sale,and that he was not surprised that it is a subject for the Biden Administration to review.
“It allows the administration to make clear that it will take a judicious approach to arms sales to volatile regions like the Middle East, evaluating the need, the threats, the absorptive capacity, and, in this case, the impact on our QME commitment,” said Ross.“That said, I would be very surprised if the sale was actually reversed. For one thing, Israel reached understandings with the Defense Department on addressing concerns it had on QME, and for another, there was a clear US commitment made to the Emirates as part of the normalization agreement with Israel – and the Biden Administration both supports the normalization process and the Abraham Accords.
“Moreover, the UAE is a security partner of the US in the region, and, among other things, this sale fits in with interoperability interests,” he added.
The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) President and CEO Michael Makovsky told the Post that while it is not out of line for a new administration to pause a military sale, “it does pose risks in sending some wrong messages. It raises concerns that the Biden administration at least not make the Abraham Accords as successful as they can, and at most might take actions that will undercut the Accords. And it risks signaling that it is afraid of crossing the Tehran regime, which is opposite of what it should be doing as it considers how to approach the Iran nuclear issue.”
Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said that “it is not surprising that the Biden administration would wish to make its own assessment of an arms deal as significant as this one. The F35 club is an exclusive one. The technology is extremely advanced and sensitive, and is reserved for America’s best and most loyal allies.”
Schanzer added that the Biden administration also seeks to put its own stamp on the Abraham Accords.
“While it has voiced approval of these recent diplomatic developments, the Biden team will almost certainly view the Gulf states with more skepticism than the Trump team did,” said Schanzer. “And the more transactional approach of the Trump team will certainly not continue with this administration. I believe the review underscores this fact.
“From Israel’s perspective, one can only imagine the mixed emotions at the Kiriya [IDF headquarters],” he continued. “There were undoubtedly military officials at the IDF who questioned the wisdom of such sales, given the impact on Israel’s qualitative military edge. But there will also be those in the diplomatic and political realm who will watch nervously as the UAE begins to wonder whether its peace with Israel yielded a substantial enough return. Given the warm ties we have witnessed to date, it’s hard to imagine the UAE walking away, even if the deal is terminated.”