Trump: UAE F-35 jets deal ‘under review’ despite Israeli concerns

The UAE has made it clear, both before and after official ties with Israel were announced, that they are interested in buying the planes.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) news briefing at the White House in Washington, US, July 23, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) news briefing at the White House in Washington, US, July 23, 2020
The US is considering selling F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday night.
Trump’s comments came two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu detailed multiple occasions in which he told US officials he opposes such a sale. Netanyahu denied reports the deal is part of the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE, and a White House source confirmed it is not in the peace deal.
However, the UAE has made it clear they are interested in buying the plane, both for the past six years and in the days after official ties with Israel were announced. Trump acknowledged this, saying the UAE would like “quite a few F-35s.”
“It’s the greatest fighter jet in the world,” Trump said. “They’d like to buy F-35s, we’ll see what happens. It’s under review.”
Trump also showed his positive view on Abu Dhabi: “They’ve definitely got the money to pay for it. It’s nice because a lot of times when we make deals, they don’t have 10 cents, these countries we deal with. We give to them, [saying] ‘How about paying this back later?’ But they never pay because they don’t have the money.”
The New York Times reported that the Trump administration accelerated the process toward selling the jets, as well as advanced drones, to the UAE, and that the White House denied that it is directly tied to normalization with Israel.
White House Special Advisor Jared Kushner is reportedly involved in the push for an arms deal.
The process of selling F-35s would take six to eight years. The move requires approval from Congress, which has opposed weapons sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia in recent years because of civilian casualties in the Yemen war.
If Trump is not reelected, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden could stop the sale. Former president Barack Obama’s administration, in which Biden was vice president, distanced itself from Gulf states, pursuing an agreement with their enemy, Iran.
Netanyahu has faced scrutiny in Israel over these developments, due to concerns another country in the Middle East having F-35s could weaken Israel’s qualitative military edge.
The prime minister admitted he did not tell Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz about normalization with the UAE in advance, telling Israel Hayom he was worried about leaks to the media. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said earlier this week that he and Gantz were not made aware of any security aspects of the deal when Netanyahu told them about it shortly before the announcement.
Gantz on Thursday sent an angry letter to Netanyahu and to the National Security Council advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, for working behind his back on a possible sale to the UAE of F-35 jets, Ynet reported. At issue is a conversation held in June in which Ben-Shabbat spoke with Air Force chief Amika Norkin, about such a sale, without linking it to a peace deal. Gantz said the call violated procedure. Gantz spokesman confirmed that a letter had been sent, but did not divulge any details with regard to its content.
The Prime Minister’s Office statement denying Netanyahu agreed to the US selling F-35s to the UAE detailed several occasions on which Netanyahu and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer voiced their opposition to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on July 7-August 3.
The statement also says that National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat discussed the matter with Israel Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin on July 2.
Gantz said earlier this week 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.
He stressed the F-35 “is the best combat aircraft in the world,” and “it’s not a good idea that it will be in the hands of others” in the region.
Anna Ahronheim and
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.