Israel signaled to the Trump administration that it would not oppose F-35 sales to the United Arab Emirates, the Hill reported Friday.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Benny Gantz declared they would not oppose the sale of "certain weapons systems" to Abu Dhabi, in reference to the American-made fighter jets. "The prime minister and the defense minister both agree that since the U.S. is upgrading Israel's military capability and is maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge, Israel will not oppose the sale of these systems to the UAE," Netanyahu and Gantz said in a joint statement.
Jerusalem's approval comes soon after Secretary of Defense Mark Esper met with Gantz in Washington Thursday and signed a joint declaration that the United States would continue to prioritize Israel's military strength in future arms deals. "It was important for me once again to reaffirm the special relationship between our two countries, the commitment we have made to Israel's security based on our shared values, our shared history," Esper said.
Abu Dhabi's acquisition of F-35s would bolster the range and lethality of the Gulf country's air force and deter potential Iranian aggression. Assurances of military cooperation between the UAE and Washington were an integral part of the historic peace deal between the UAE and Israel brokered by the Trump administration. Since the formal establishment of relations between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi in September, Bahrain and now Sudan have joined the ranks of countries to normalize relations with Israel.
Weapon sales could proceed in a rapid fashion to the UAE without opposition from the Senate. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), however, introduced a bill this week that could restrict the sale of fighter jets to Abu Dhabi.
"Ensuring that the United States and its crucial partner in the Middle East, Israel, maintain their critical qualitative military advantages over all potential adversaries is enshrined in law and must be one of the highest priorities of any president and Congress," Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. "This rush to close an F-35 deal by President Trump before the end of his term could well undermine that objective."