The U.S. has reportedly told the United Arab Emirates it will sanction the sale of cutting-edge F-35 jets as part of a confidential clause in the Persian Gulf state’s agreement to establish diplomatic ties with Israel.
The sale of the advanced weapons systems to the UAE would jeopardize Israeli military superiority in the region, a status that has been unfailingly upheld by the U.S. and Israel since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, when Israel was caught unprepared for an attack by four Arab armies.
In a surprise announcement last Thursday, President Donald Trump revealed he had brokered an historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which, like most Arab countries, has never recognized the State of Israel.
In an interview, Nahum Barnea, a veteran Israeli political reporter who uncovered the apparent clause, said the UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed demanded access to the advanced jets and drones before he agreed to consider opening an avenue to peace with Israel.
President Trump may attempt to use the agreement to circumvent opposition in Congress, where a bipartisan alliance halted a $7 billion arms deal to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which Trump had touted as a major foreign policy coup.
It is also possible that negotiators left the UAE under the impression that they would be allowed to purchase the F-35s, even though U.S. and Israeli officials knew the sales would ultimately be blocked.
In May, the Trump administration invoked a seldom used emergency provision to allow Trump to seal a deal selling precision-guided munitions and the F-35 to the Gulf powers, but the deal with Israel, which has been widely hailed as a breakthrough for Middle East peace, could provide a smoother path.
The House and Senate passed resolutions aimed at blocking the sales, which Trump vetoed.
Last week, the State Department’s inspector general concluded that the emergency declaration complied with the law but failed to include adequate measures to minimize civilian casualties.
Netanyahu’s tacit agreement would remove almost 50 years of Israeli opposition to the sale of strategic advanced weapons systems to other countries in the region.
The U.S., Israel’s closest ally, has traditionally resisted selling advanced weapons systems to Arab countries, citing Israel’s existential need to maintain “qualitative edge,” as Israel’s regional military superiority is referred to in American policy circles.
In helping to clear a potential path for Trump to push through the sales, Netanyahu would also be attempting to circumvent the concerns of his own military leaders and his defense and foreign ministers, who are essential members of the fragile coalition government he leads.
In a statement calling the revelation “fake news,” Netanyahu said “the historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include any Israeli agreement on any arms deal between the United States and the United Arab Emirates.”
That’s true as far as it goes, Barnea told The Daily Beast. “Netanyahu acquiesced to the sale of F-35 while reserving the right to oppose it, in a mitigated way, when the sales deal becomes public,” he said.
“During the tripartite negotiations Netanyahu came to understand that the Israeli veto was over, but he retained the right to oppose the deal, while all three sides know the arms deal will now take place.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff, slammed Netanyahu’s failure to consult regarding the negotiations, and at a press conference said that Israel would not acquiesce to any such sale under his watch. “We will continue to rigorously protect Israel’s regional military superiority so long as I am the minister of defense.”
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, a fellow member of Gantz’ Blue and White party, said “we have no knowledge of any security assurances included in the agreement with the UAE, and if there are such, they were not made in conjunction with us.”
Since the peace deal’s announcement, Netanyahu has already been scrambling to contain the fury of his right-wing base over the as-yet unsigned accord’s stipulation that Israel must “temporarily suspend” its plans to annex part or all of the occupied West Bank, which is claimed by the Palestinians.
The promise of annexation, or “the imposition of Israeli sovereignty,” has been Netanyahu’s principal electoral pitch through four election campaigns since 2015.