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Gargash. Photo: Getty

The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, said Thursday that his country's normalization deal with Israel should "make it easier" to buy F-35 fighter jets from the U.S..

Why it matters: Israel is the only country in the Middle East to possess the F-35, America's most advanced fighter aircraft, and reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed off on potential sales to the UAE — which he denies — ignited a political controversy in Israel.

What he's saying: Gargash, speaking at a video briefing hosted by the Atlantic Council, said the UAE had expressed interest in buying the F-35 six years ago, and that its request was not connected to the normalization deal.

  • But he did say that the matter was "on the table" with the U.S. — something President Trump confirmed in a press conference on Wednesday.
  • "We have legitimate requests that are there and we ought to get them," Gargash said. "Now the whole idea of state of war with Israel will no longer exist and so it will make it easier for the U.S. to sell us the planes."
  • Gargash said he doesn't understand why Israel is so concerned about the potential sale. “I don’t know how much of it is domestic Israeli politics," he said.

The backstory: Israeli media reports following the normalization deal said it contained a secret clause, approved by Netanyahu, about F-35 sales to the UAE.

  • 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.
  • Netanyahu’s office responded with a lengthy statement denying that the deal included "any reference to arms sales."
  • Behind the scenes: Netanyahu also assured his security cabinet that he would object to any future sale of F-35 jets by the U.S. to the UAE, and would also convey those objections to Congress, ministers who attended the meeting told me.

Driving the news: Trump spoke favorably of a potential sale of "quite a few" F-35s to the UAE during his Wednesday press conference, noting that the Gulf state was more than capable of paying for them, but said the matter was still "under review.”

Zoom out: Gargash stressed in Thursday's briefing that the UAE would have a "warm peace" with Israel, "because we haven’t fought a war with Israel, unlike Egypt and Jordan."

  • Nevertheless he added the UAE is committed to the international consensus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and would therefore establish its embassy in Tel-Aviv, not in Jerusalem.

Go deeper: How the UAE-Israel deal came together

Go deeper

Nov 29, 2020 - World

Kushner to visit Saudi Arabia and Qatar seeking deal to end crisis

Kushner with senior Saudi officials in the Oval Office in 2018. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Jared Kushner will travel in the coming days to Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a last-ditch effort to resolve the dispute between the Gulf countries.

Why it matters: Fixing the rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf and notch a last-minute achievement for Kushner and the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

7 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."