Aug 18, 2020 - World

Netanyahu denies Israel-UAE deal included secret clause on F-35s

UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed with Trump in 2017. Photo: Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied reports that he gave the Trump administration a green light to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE as part of a normalization deal announced last Thursday.

Why it matters: U.S. law requires the administration to consult with Israel before selling arms to any Arab country to ensure Israel can maintain its qualitative military edge. It must also report to Congress on the matter.

This morning, Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that the normalization deal included a secret clause, approved by Netanyahu, about F-35 sales to the UAE.

  • Between the lines: Israel's status as the only Middle Eastern country to possess the most advanced fighter aircraft in America's arsenal currently gives it a clear technological advantage over other militaries in the region.

Netanyahu’s office responded with a statement, saying, “The peace agreement with the United Arab Emirates does not include any reference to arms sales and the U.S. has made it clear that it will always take strict care to maintain Israel's qualitative edge."

  • The prime minister's office did confirm, however, that the U.S. had been in talks about arms deals with Arab countries including the UAE in the weeks prior to the normalization deal.
  • The statement said Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the sale of advanced weapons to Arab countries, including those who have peace deals with Israel.
  • According to the statement, Netanyahu "was explicit in Israel's opposition to the sale of F-35s and other advanced weaponry to any country in the Middle East" during a July 7 meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.
  • Netanyahu sent a letter the next day, via Friedman, to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterating that "Israel's position remains unchanged even following the reaching of peace agreements," per the statement.

Behind the scenes: Netanyahu said at a meeting of the security cabinet today that he will object to any future sale of F-35 jets by the U.S. to the UAE, and will also convey those objections to Congress, ministers who attended the meeting tell me.

  • Netanyahu opened the cabinet meeting with a long speech, and denied that the normalization deal included any understandings about U.S. arms sales to the UAE.
  • Netanyahu read aloud to the ministers his July 8th letter to Pompeo, and emphasized a portion in which he wrote that Israel's objections would stand even for countries that moved “from being rivals to being partners."
  • He responded to one minister's question by saying he would speak to leaders in Congress to convey those objections.
  • He was then asked if there was any chance the White House had promised F-35’s to the UAE despite his opposition, and said: “I don’t think so."

A White House official denied there was a secret clause in the UAE-Israel normalization deal about arms sales to the UAE.

  • The prime minister's office declined to comment on this report.

Go deeper: How the Israel-UAE deal came together

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