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  • Seth Frantzman

Background on Israel-UAE-US F-35 deals

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN August - I made a blog post about the developing ties between Israel and the UAE and the F-35 discussions that appear to underpin part of the US support for the deal. The UAE-Israel bilateral agreement to establish normalized relations was announced on August 13, 2020.

Soon after the Washington Post reported that the UAE might enjoy “access to previously off-limits U.S. weaponry, such as advanced drones.” The New York Times included a quote from Dennis Ross, a former Middle East negotiator for Republican administrations who said he would expect the UAE to get weapons like advanced drones. [It is known that in 2010 “Emiratis asked Israel to make it up to them by selling them armed drones, US and Arab officials told the New Yorker. However, Jerusalem declined, lest it antagonize the White House, which opposed the sale of armed drones to the UAE, according to,” Times of Israel.]

Within a day the issue of arms sales became part of the story.  Reuters: “Normalized diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could pave the way for more U.S. weapons sales to the Gulf Arab country, according to experts.”

Here is how the story developed: August 17 Haaretz “Just hours after normalization, sources in the Israel defense industry were talking about how the UAE has the potential to offset the loss of sales.”

The New Arab “Israeli firms are eyeing potential arms deals with the UAE.”

August 18 Ynet reported on August 18 by Nahum Barnea “U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is set to sell F-35 fighter jets and advanced drones to the UAE in a secret clause that was part of the agreement to establish diplomatic ties between Israel and the Gulf nation.”

Ynet: “Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East must be maintained…’I will support the agreement to forge diplomatic relations with the UAE while preserving Israel’s security interests in the region,’ Gantz said.” [see here and  background on the QME] Times of Israel; ‘Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday warned that the proliferation of the F-35 fighter jet was “not good for Israel,” following reports that the United States would sell the advanced aircraft to the United Arab Emirates. “It’s not good for Israel that the plane is going around in other places. We need to talk to the Emiratis, to the Americans, and make sure that our security interests are being upheld,” Gantz told reporters in a press conference."

Yedioth Ahronoth reporter Nachum Barnea reported Tuesday, citing American and Emirati officials.” Globes said the US would sell F-35s as well.

Calcalist: “A hidden clause in the much-anticipated agreement to normalize Israel’s ties with the UAE states that in return for advancing diplomatic and commercial relations, the Persian Gulf powerhouse will be allowed to complete a huge arms deal with the U.S.,

Netanyahu denied the reports: “The historic peaceagreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include any agreement by Israel to any arms deal between the United States and the United Arab Emirates.”

Haaretz, "Israel had pressured the U.S. to block the sale of the advanced fighter planes in the past, but Israeli sources fear that Netanyahu."

Jason Greenblatt according to Israel’s Army Radio discussed the F-35s: “Full confidencein Trump administration and the Israeli government that they’d never agree to deal that’d put Israel in danger. Whatever happened behind closed doors I’m sure makes sense even though it might look more flexible than what happened in past.” [ See US policy and UAE background]

Netanyahu says the deal did not includeF-35s – The Jerusalem Post. “The peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates does not include any reference to arms sales and the US has made it clear that it will always take strict care to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge.” – Prime Minister Office.” Israel foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi replied that “Israel must maintain qualitative military edge.” Al-Jazeera “Israel has not softened its opposition to any American arms sales to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that could diminish its military superiority.”

The Jerusalem Post “Netanyahu has pulled such a move before – when he allowed Germany to sell two advanced submarines to Egypt in 2015. The deal was made without the knowledge of then defense minister Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon and then chief of staff Benny Gantz on the grounds of state security.” Times of Israel: Can Israel hug the UAE without any arms?

VOA: “Israel opposes F-35 sale.

Daily Sabah: Policy unchanged August 20

Haaretz: Defense Minister Benny Gantz has sent a harshly worded letter to National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, protesting him making a call to Air Force commander on the potential American sale of F-35 fighter jets to Arab states.

Janes Israel rejects F-35 deal as part of UAE agreement.

Netanyahu says he opposed F-35 sale. Yediot: Senior UAE official confirms that as part of peace deal w Israel, US will sell them F-35s. UAE official adds that Israel was party to agmnt & Netanyahu knew.

CNN: “A secret push by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner to sell advanced arms — including F-35 stealth fighter jets — to the United Arab Emirates has caused confusion and frustration among agencies and congressional committees that would normally be involved in such a sale but have been left in the dark.” The US is considering sellingF-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday night. The United Arab Emirates’ accord to normalize ties with Israel should remove “any hurdle” for the United States to sell the F-35 stealth fighter jet to the Gulf Arab state, a senior Emirati official said on Thursday.

AP: Senior Emirati diplomat says request to buy advanced fighter jets predates newly announced agreement between Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem; comments come day after Trump said he was considering sale despite long-standing Israeli concerns over shift in military might.

August 24

“UAE cancelled meeting with Israelis due toF-35.”

August 25: Netanyahu and Mossad at war with Defense Ministry over F-35 deal. “The Mossad, encouraged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is pushing to sell the UAE advanced weapon systems and highly classified information, while the Defense Ministry adamantly objects to giving away some of Israel’s more advanced warfare capabilities, for fear of classified information leaking to enemy states.”

Algemeiner: The conversation between Benny Gantz and Mohammed al-Bawardi came amid Israeli dissent at the prospect that the US-brokered deal could grant the UAE access to advanced weaponry previously denied to it, such as F-35 stealth fighter jets.

Minister HaNegbi opposes even one “screw”being given to UAE for F-35.

Meanwhile, “Kushner pushes for F-35 sales.” Al-Jazeera and Trita Parsi highlight F-35 controversy. August 27 Cartoonist Emad Hajjaj detained in Jordan for cartoon critiquing UAE and F-35 and Israel deal.  August 30 Haaretz: Following UAE deal, Gantz seethes after being sidelined on F-35 talks by top official

August 31: The Jerusalem Post;Israel will retain its qualitative military edge (QME) in the Middle East despite any possible deal between the United States and the United Arab Emirates, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told The Jerusalem Post on Monday as the first direct flight from Tel Aviv was in the air to Abu Dhabi.’ “QME is a critical aspect of Israel’s security,” he said. “We also make deals with the United States, and we can also get more platforms and systems. This is not a one-sided deal.”

ToI: Gantz says he will work with US to keep Israel’s military edge.

September 1 Foreign PolicyI don’t see how the UAE would have agreed [to the deal] if it wasn’t happening in 3 to 4 months,” one congressional staffer with knowledge of the process told Foreign Policy. “They read the tea leaves, and they know things will change for them in the next administration.” September 2  Neri Zilber: “Trump wants to push through within months an arms deal with the UAE that includes the world’s most advanced warplane, the F-35, an ambitious timetable that could well be thwarted by the US Congress, depending largely on Netanyahu’s position on the sale.”

Benny Gantz on UAE F-35s: “Will allow peace deal to proceed while upholding all of Israel’s security needs…Americans don’t need our approval to sell anything anywhere they want...Won’t find one project that Israel stopped.” Says he doesn’t know if Bibi agreed to sale.

September 4 NY Times: “Netanyahu Privately Condoned U.S. Plan to Sell Arms to U.A.E., Officials Say – The New York Times. ⁦Hussein Ibish ‘said that officials from all three nations that Mr. Netanyahu had given approval for the arms sale but he….publicly denounced it.'” Barak Ravid: “Israeli PM office “Repeating a false allegation against Netanyahu does not make it true. At no point in the talks with the US leading to the historic breakthrough with the UAE on August 13, did the PM give Israel’s consent to the sale of advanced weapons to UAE.”

September 10 Neri Zilber: Gen. Amos Gilead (former head of MoD political-military branch) says there’s “wide consensus” in Israel’s security establishment against sale of F-35s to UAE.

IDC conference, Gadi Eizenkot appeared to criticize the Prime Minister’s attacks on the police and the prosecutor, as well as the sale of F-35s to the UAE. September 22

Reuters: UAE said aiming "FOR DECEMBER DEAL ON" fighter jet sale. It could be pinned to the national day of the UAE.

September 23:

US Ambassador to Israel Friedman to Jerusalem Post: If UAE gets F-35s it will be in seven years.

October 30

US to sell Greece F-35s.

White House moves forward with F-35 sales to UAE.

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