Senate wants security guarantees for Israel before US sale of F-35s to UAE
The Senate is calling on the State Department to certify that a pending sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not pose security threats to Israel or weaken American military systems in the face of Russian and Chinese threats.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday sent formal notification to Congress that the U.S. intends to sell nearly $23.4 billion in advanced weapons to the UAE, including 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, valued at $10.4 billion; 18 Reaper drones, valued at nearly $3 billion; and a $10 billion package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.
The Senate Appropriations Committee included its requirement for certification as part of a fiscal 2021 spending bill for the State Department and foreign operations released Tuesday along with other government funding measures.
The legislation says the secretary of State must certify and report that the F-35 sale “does not diminish Israel’s qualitative military edge; and poses no vulnerabilities to U.S. military systems and technology vis-a-vis the Russian Federation and [the People’s Republic of China].”
The significant military package is part of the Trump administration’s negotiations with the UAE over its opening of diplomatic ties with Israel under the banner of the Abraham Accords signed in Washington in September.
The Israeli government signaled last month that it would not oppose the U.S. moving forward on the military sales to the UAE, noting that commitments by the Trump administration to upgrade Israeli weapons systems will ensure the Jewish state’s military superiority in the region.
A 2008 U.S. law requires Washington to ensure Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge,” with a provision that no weapons sales to other Middle East nations can threaten Israel’s military might in the region.
Tuesday’s request from the Senate reflects concerns from congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle regarding the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the UAE
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the outgoing chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation last month that would restrict the sale of advanced weapons systems to countries in the Middle East other than Israel unless they meet certain benchmarks, such as normalized relations with Israel; that weapons are modified to be identified and tracked by Israel; that the recipient country will protect the weapons from theft or “diversion of sensitive defense technology” to any other country without authorization; that the recipient country will respect international humanitarian law and and human rights; and that the recipient country will consult with the U.S. over their use.
“The Trump Administration has made it clear that they’ll put lethal weaponry in just about anyone’s hands without regard to potential loss of life so long as the check clears. So it’s up to Congress to consider the ramifications of allowing new partners to purchase the F-35 and other advanced systems,” Engel said in a statement at the time.