Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals'

Overnight Defense: Trump hosts Israel, UAE, Bahrain for historic signing l Air Force reveals it secretly built and flew new fighter jet l Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals'
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Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.


THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE on Tuesday presided over a historic ceremony that saw Israel normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, marking a diplomatic achievement for the incumbent president as he heads into the final weeks of his reelection campaign. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed agreements with Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani, foreign minister of Bahrain, and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, foreign minister of the UAE, to establish diplomatic relations during an event on the South Lawn of the White House. 

The agreements, called the “Abraham Accords,” represent the first time an Arab country has normalized relations with Israel since Jordan did in 1994 and Egypt did in 1979.

The significance: The decision by the UAE and Bahrain, which previously had covert relations with Israel, to formally normalize ties with the Jewish state reflects their growing concern about shared threats posed by Iran, and the Trump administration is hoping the agreement ushers in more regional unity on its so-called maximum pressure campaign to isolate Tehran.

The administration is also hoping the agreement will put pressure on the Palestinians and give momentum to its stalled Israel-Palestinian peace plan.

Trump touts signing: In his remarks before the signing, Trump cast the development as a considerable movement toward peace in the Middle Eastern region. The foreign leaders praised Trump for his administration’s leadership shepherding the agreements, describing it as a hopeful moment for the future. 

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we mark a dawn of a new Middle East,” Trump said. “Thanks to the courage of the leaders present, we take a major stride towards a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity.” 

Who was there: Roughly 800 people gathered for the ceremony, some wearing masks but many not during the coronavirus pandemic. The attendees included current and former Trump administration officials, members of Congress and foreign officials. Nearly a dozen Democrats attended the ceremony, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (N.Y.), a rarity amid high tensions in Washington. Engel lost his primary bid for reelection earlier this year.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), whom Trump has regularly derided for his vote to convict the president on an abuse of power charge during his impeachment and who has frequently criticized Trump’s foreign policy, was also invited to and attended the ceremony. 

What exactly was signed: Trump signed agreements between the UAE and Israel and, separately, between Bahrain and Israel, while all four parties signed a declaration of the “Abraham Accords.” 

The four-page treaty between the UAE and Israel states that the two nations shall establish embassies and exchange ambassadors, work to advance peace and stability in the region, and cooperate in a diverse set of areas including finance, civil aviation, healthcare and tourism.

“Peace, diplomatic relations and full normalization of bilateral ties are hereby established between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel,” the document states. 

The one-page declaration between Bahrain and Israel is much shorter, as a result of the condensed time period to produce it. It states that the leaders of both nations “agreed to establish full diplomatic relations, to promote lasting security, to eschew threats and the use of force, as well as advance coexistence and a culture of peace.”

A boost ahead of election: The development represents a much-needed foreign policy victory for Trump as he trails Democratic nominee Joe Biden in national polling and some key swing states less than two months from the November presidential election. Trump has faced consistent disapproval for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and Tuesday’s ceremony allowed him the opportunity to distract from his domestic woes to mark an accomplishment. 

When the UAE deal was announced last month, Biden praised the agreement, but framed it as the result of “efforts of multiple administrations to foster a broader Arab-Israeli opening, including the efforts of the Obama-Biden administration.”

The White House has sought to use the developments as a means of promoting Trump as a peacemaker.

Read more about the event here.


AIR FORCE TEST FLIES SECRET JET: The Air Force on Tuesday revealed that it has secretly built and flown a prototype of its next-generation fighter jet, according to the service's top acquisition official.

The jet, built as part of the Air Force's Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, was first disclosed to Defense News on Monday.

Air Force acquisition head Will Roper told the outlet that the service could now move the jet into production "pretty fast."

"We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before," he said in an interview.

Roper then publicly spoke on the jet's existence on Tuesday at an Air Force Association (AFA) virtual conference, telling watchers that "the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world." 

Why this matters: The announcement is significant, as this would mark the Air Force's sixth-generation aircraft, a full-scale version of which was not expected for years.

The test flight also comes 20 years after the service first similarly demonstrated an experimental fighter jet for the fifth-generation F-35. 

Few details: As the NGAD program is classified, little more is known of the secretive jet. Roper would not give Defense News or the AFA event further details on the aircraft, including which company or companies built the prototype, how many were flown, and when or where any flight occurred.  

He also would not say anything about the jet's design, what it would be used for, how many would be bought or the expected cost. 

But budget request gives clues: The Air Force did request a little more than $1 billion for the program in its fiscal 2021 budget proposal to Congress, to be ramped up to a more than $6 billion ask total between fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2025. 

A turning point?: The announcement may also mark a turning point in how the military develops and buys new weapons, a process that was once thought to require large work facilities and expensive equipment and tools.  

That line of production has brought criticism to the Pentagon, most recently in the Lockheed Martin-made F-35, which lawmakers have long bashed for its cost overruns and numerous mechanical hiccups.  

The NGAD, in contrast, was first designed and tested digitally before it was physically built.


CORONAVIRUS CREATES DELAYS IN RESEARCH: The coronavirus has caused a delay in researching alternatives to using cancer-linked chemicals in military firefighting foam, the director of the Defense Department’s Strategic Environment Research and Development Program said Tuesday.

Director Herb Nelson referenced the delay when asked by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) about whether the possible alternatives will be safer than the currently-used chemicals called PFAS. 

“It’s too early to answer that question. We’re just getting started. Normally, on this day, I could give you some early indicators, but like everyone else on this Earth, they’ve really taken a delay because of the COVID situation,” Nelson said. 

“Many of the people are out of their laboratories, so maybe they’re six months further behind than we would expect them to be,” he added.

What are PFAS?: PFAS chemicals are a class of cancer-linked substances that are also sometimes called “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the human body and in nature. They’re found in a variety of products, including firefighting foam that’s used by the military. 

However, the military will be prohibited from using foams containing PFAS after Oct. 1, 2024, due to a provision in a past National Defense Authorization Act bill.

Read more here.



Senate Intelligence Vice Chair Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBipartisan, bicameral group unveils 8 billion coronavirus proposal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms Congress ends its year under shadow of COVID-19 MORE (D-Va.) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will speak at the National Democratic Institute webinar, “Democracy, Technology and China: U.S. Strategy for Innovation in the 21st Century,” at 9 a.m. 

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperBiden plans to keep Wray as FBI director: report ISIS Task Force director resigns from Pentagon post in continued post-election purge The perils of a US troop drawdown to the Afghan army and tribes MORE delivers remarks to the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference webcast at 10 a.m.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a webcast on “The Eisenhower Legacy in Space,” with NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineWhat should Biden do with NASA and the Artemis Program? The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden increases Electoral College win The Hill's Morning Report - Trump battles ballots; vaccine news boosts markets MORE at 11 a.m.

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will hold a virtual Intelligence and National Security Summit at 1 p.m. with speakers Army Lt. Gen. Bob Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency; Christopher Scolese, director of the National Reconnaissance Office; and Vice Adm. Bob Sharp, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; and Johny Sawyer, chief of staff at the Defense Intelligence Agency.



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