Trump administration approves $23B weapons package for UAE

The Trump administration has formally notified Congress of its approval to sell the United Arab Emirates (UAE) $23.4 billion in weapons, including F-35 fighter jets and armed drones, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday.

The approval comes after Abu Dhabi signed a normalization agreement with Israel at a White House ceremony in September in what has been dubbed the Abraham Accords.

“This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement announcing the approval.

“The UAE’s historic agreement to normalize relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively transform the region’s strategic landscape,” he added. “Our adversaries, especially those in Iran, know this and will stop at nothing to disrupt this shared success.”

The formal notification kicks off a 30-day period in which Congress can block the sale if it wants to. Lawmakers in both parties have expressed concerns that selling the UAE advanced weaponry could run afoul of the U.S. commitment to maintain Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge in the region.

The sale announced Tuesday includes up to 50 F-35s, with an estimated value of $10.4 billion.

It also includes up to 18 MQ-9B drones valued at $2.97 billion. The approval marks the first time the administration has signed off on armed drones since it loosened the U.S. rules for drone exports in July. The administration previously approved selling Taiwan drones under the new rules, but those are not set to be armed.

The UAE package also includes air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions valued at $10 billion.

“The proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with U.S. partners in a manner fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge,” Pompeo said in his statement.

Israel had initially continued to express opposition to selling the UAE F-35s after the Abraham Accords signing. But last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said their country would not oppose selling Abu Dhabi “certain weapons systems” after Washington agreed to unspecified upgrades for Israel’s military.

Still, lawmakers have continued to express concern about eroding Israel’s military advantage. The U.S. commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge is enshrined in a 2008 law.

The GOP-led Senate Appropriations Committee released a spending bill Tuesday that would require certifications that selling the UAE F-35s would not diminish Israel’s qualitative military edge and would not pose threat to the United States by enabling technology to get into the hands of Russia and China, both of which have security ties with the UAE.

And after Congress was informally notified of the F-35 sale two weeks ago, outgoing House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would restrict the sale of advanced weapons systems to countries in the Middle East other than Israel unless they meet certain benchmarks.

Tags Abraham Accords Benjamin Netanyahu Eliot Engel F-35 F-35s Israel Israel–United States relations Mike Pompeo UAE United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates–United States relations
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