Next Tuesday, a delegation from the United Arab Emirates will meet an Israeli delegation led by Prime Minister Netanyahu to formally sign the Israel-UAE Peace Agreement at the White House. This historic moment is a giant step forward in creating more peace and stability in the Middle East, paving the way for the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel. This a cause for celebration, but a condition of the agreement is a cause for concern.
In the days following the historic announcement about the US-brokered peace agreement between Israel and the UAE, it was reported that the Trump administration offered to sell advanced F-35 fighter jets and advanced radar planes known as Growlers to the UAE to help sweeten the deal. There was a flurry of conflicting reports about whether this arms sale would be directly tied to the agreement and if Israel’s defense establishment was aware of this promise. When asked, Senior White House Advisor and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said that the normalization agreement would make the sale much more likely. Once the arms deal looked likely, you started to see Israeli leaders and military officials speak out, condemning the sale of the advanced jets to the UAE. To add an even bigger twist to the story, the New York Times published an explosive report that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself privately consented to the arms sale while publicly opposing it, a claim he has strongly refuted. The current status of this sale remains a mystery.
There have been serious concerns raised by American and Israeli leaders alike that selling the advanced jets to the UAE would hinder Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME). Following the disastrous Yom Kippur War in 1973, the United States codified in law that America would work to ensure Israel has the technological and tactical advantages it needed to defend itself. This has been longstanding U.S. policy ever since, honored by every previous administration regardless of their political party. Now, it looks like that is another foreign policy norm about to be undone by the Trump administration.
One of the leading voices in opposition to the arms deal is Jewish Democratic Congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz penned an op-ed in the Miami Herald arguing that this sale would diminish Israel’s QME and laid out several reasons why the deal should not go through. The Congresswoman is absolutely right in her assessment that this sale would not only diminish Israel’s QME but could set a dangerous precedent that would see the F-35s be promised to other nations in the region in exchange to make peace with Israel.
This is problematic for several reasons. The first being that we don’t know what type of armaments and systems would be installed in the UAE F-35. Would it be superior or on par with Israel’s, reducing their ability to defend themselves against it? Would there be limits on the use of these new jets, only for defensive measures, or would they also be used by the UAE in their current bombing campaigns in Yemen and Libya? How many jets will the UAE be buying, and will that number exceed the fleet of 50 that has been promised to Israel? Additionally, there is concern that the current UAE regime could collapse or change power, and the government could become hostile towards Israel. These concerns around stability are the same reason that the Americans haven’t sold the jets to anyone else in the region, including longstanding allies who have already made peace with Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan. If a regime in possession of these jets collapses, you could find the most advanced fighter jet in the world under the command of a new regime that could use them on Israel. Another major concern that is raised by the Congresswoman and other opponents of the deal is about what type of precedent would this set? Prime Minister Netanyahu for the past decade has been working on normalizing relations between the Arab world and Israel as a roadmap for peace in the region. However, if fancy arms sales are tied to these deals, you would see Israel’s QME greatly diminished and air forces throughout the region possess the same capabilities as Israel’s globally feared air force. Also, there are legitimate concerns about security. The UAE is known to be frequented by Iranian intelligence assets who would most certainly spend a reasonable amount of time and effort to learn about the new F-35 to help develop a similar plane of their own with other American adversaries such as China or Russia. This could pose direct national security to the United States if the classified information regarding our most advanced fighter jet would be compromised. Israel’s intelligence is world-renowned for its secrecy and ironclad protection of classified information, which is a staple of the U.S.-Israel relationship. In short, we can trust Israel with secrets and classified information that might not be as safe in the hands of the Emiratis.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that peace in the region can be achieved without promising the sales of warplanes to other nations. The ever-growing threat of Iran in the region has made the Arab Gulf states want to normalize relations with Israel to thwart growing Iranian influence in the region. There is already a strong incentive for these nations to warm to Israel to safeguard their own national security, maintain power in the region, and revitalize their economies with innovative technology that Israel has been booming with. I firmly believe that the UAE would have agreed to normalize relations with Israel without the arms deal being apart of the equation. I hope that Israel’s QME is taken into consideration in the coming weeks as the details of this agreement are discussed and that if necessary, Congress prioritizes America’s commitment to Israel’s security over the domestic political considerations of this administration. Our foreign policy must be conducted in a bipartisan matter and not used for political gains at home during an election year at the expense of our most trusted allies.