The US State Department approved F-35 fighter jets sale to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an arms sale which was questioned by some congressional Democrats.
In a Tuesday statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a massive arms sale package with an estimated price tag of US $23.37 billion, which includes up to 50 F-35 jets worth US $10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9B drones worth US $2.97 billion, and US $10 billion of munitions.
“The proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with US partners in a manner fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge,” said the statement.
Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge refers to a US legal standard that Israel maintains a military technologic edge over other regional countries.
Reports said that the F-35 deal between the United States and the UAE was a part of the US-brokered agreement to normalize ties between the UAE and Israel that had been signed in September.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially opposed the UAE’s purchase of the F-35, but Israel’s position changed after the United States pledged to ensure Israel’s military edge in the region.
The State Department informally notified Congress of the F-35 sale two weeks ago, leading to concerns among congressional Democrats.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said in a statement at the end of October that Congress must analyze all of the ramifications of the export of F-35. “Rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest.”
The Democratic congressman noted that the potential F-35 sale to the UAE would change the military balance in the Gulf and affect Israel’s military edge. He also expressed concerns about the possible leaks of F-35’s sensitive technology, and the sale might generate demands from other Arab states for advanced weapons in exchange for normalization with Israel.
The proposed sale needs to be approved by Congress. If the sale is completed, the UAE will become only the second country in the region to fly these stealth fighter jets after Israel.