The United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s $23 billion proposal to buy 50 F-35 fighter jets, MQ-9B attack drones, missiles and bombs– which some American lawmakers want scrapped, could face even greater opposition as cries to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge grow louder following the Gaza conflict.
Currently under ‘review’ by the Biden administration, the UAE deal was approved during the Trump presidency in exchange for Abu Dhabi signing the Abraham Accord to normalize relations with Israel.
Separately, an August 2020 request by Qatar to purchase an unspecified number of F-35 jets has met with opposition from Israel. Asked on Army Radio whether Israel would oppose an F-35 sale to Qatar, Israel’s intelligence minister, Eli Cohen said: “The answer is yes. Our security and military superiority in the region are the most significant things for us.”
But given that Qatar is a steadfast Washington allay and hosts the biggest U.S. base in the Middle East, America may find it difficult to reject Qatar’s proposal while approving that of the UAE. Qatar signed a $6.2 billion contract in 2017 to buy 36 F-15QA jets, the most advanced version of Boeing F-15 fighter which is seen as a stepping stone to an F-35 buy.
Qatar hosts Hamas Leader, Ismail Haniyeh
In a move certain to make Israel see red, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met on May 15 with the Head of the Political Bureau of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) Dr. Ismail Haniyeh, who is currently visiting Qatar. Al Thani asked the international community to “act urgently to stop the repeated brutal Israeli attacks against civilians in Gaza,” a report in the Peninsula newspaper said.
UAE calls for ceasefire, underscores Abraham Accord
In contrast, the UAE’s response to Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza that took some 200 Palestinian lives and flattened office and residential buildings has been careful not to blame any single party.
A statement by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs said, "The UAE calls on all parties to take immediate steps to commit to a ceasefire, initiate a political dialogue, and exercise maximum restraint."
"We reflect on the promise that the Abraham Accords hold for current and future generations, to live with their neighbors in peace, dignity and prosperity," he added.
Read between the lines, the reference to the Abraham Accord is to send a message to the U.S. that the UAE has kept its part of the bargain and it is time for the U.S. to fulfill its commitment- including the supply of F-35 jets to the UAE and prevent Israel from expanding settlements around Jerusalem.
Sheikh Abdullah’s statement also knocks on the Israeli leadership‘s door when it says, "It is the true mark of leadership in this moment of crisis to refrain from provocations and reprisals, and to instead work towards a de-escalation of tensions."
U.S. Senators oppose F-35 jets sale to UAE
In mid-April this year, two U.S. Democratic brought a bill that could block the U.S. sale of F-35 fighter jets and weapons to the UAE. The bill called “Secure F-35 Exports Act of 2020," introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, would require that any F-35 sale to a Middle Eastern country other than Israel not compromise Israel's military advantage over such countries, and come with assurances that the aircraft would not be used in operations harmful to Israel's security.
“I remain concerned with the implications of a sale of our most advanced fighter jet …..for regional stability including the legal parameters of Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge,” Menendez had said in a statement.
New York think tank files court case opposing UAE F-35 sale
Separately, the New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs ( NYCFPA), had filed a legal claim in December 2020 against the Trump administration’s decision to sell F-35 jets and weapons to the UAE. In April, after learning that the Biden administration had decided to proceed with the deal, it amended the complaint to add several grounds to oppose the deal.
An April 14 statement from the NYCFPA said that it had amended its complaint with a New York Court to include several new co-plaintiffs. “These fellow complainants are people who have be directly affected by UAE sponsored aggression through the use of US made arms in the Libyan humanitarian crisis. It is our intent to bring all of the facts surrounding this case to light in order for the world to see how these weapons, in the hands of an aggressor nation such as the UAE only exacerbates an already tragic humanitarian situation.”