Netanyahu: I Opposed F-35 Sale to UAE; Deal Doesn't Include It

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next to a F-35 fighter jet just after it arrived in Israel from the U.S.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next to a F-35 fighter jet just after it arrived in Israel from the U.S.Credit: Kobi Gidon / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the agreement to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates does not include an Israeli agreement for weapons sales between the UAE and the United States.

“The peace agreement with the UAE does not include any clauses on the matter, and the United States clarified to Israel that it will always safeguard Israel’s qualitative edge.”  

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu “has opposed the sale of F-35 jets and other advanced weapons of any sort in the Middle East, including Arab states that make peace with the State of Israel.” He added that he has expressed this position in past months to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

Israeli officials involved in the progressing relations between Israel and the UAE told Haaretz on Monday that Israel did not change its longstanding opposition to selling F-35 jets and other advanced weapons to the Gulf state, despite the accord.

Israeli and U.S. F-35 drill together over the Dead Sea, August 2020 Credit: Israeli Air Force

Since the announcement of the deal between Israel and the UAE, several sources who had been previously involved in contacts between the two countries raised concerns that as part of the new understandings, Netanyahu may have abandoned Israel’s traditionally vehement opposition to the sale of sensitive military equipment and technology to the UAE, particularly the F-35 advanced fighter jet.

These sources expressed fear that during the talks with the UAE, there may have been a secret agreement made on this issue without informing Israel’s top defense officials, who have been excluded until now from the talks.

A plan for such a sale was blocked by the U.S. Congress in the past, under pressure from Israel and the Israel lobby in Washington.

On Tuesday morning, journalist Nahum Barnea reported in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that the driving factor for the UAE to sign the agreement with Israel is a U.S. weapons deal to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, including supplying F-35 jets, advanced UAVs and other arms.  

Netanyahu called the report "fake news" and asserted that "Israel did not give its approval for any arms deal between the UAE and Israel, despite reports by the media and left wing." He said that on the contrary, the United States had promised that Israel would keep its qualitative military edge.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi praised the deal during a press conference Tuesday, and said that the ministry is unaware of any defense-related promises made in its context, and that if there were any, they were not made with the ministry's knowledge.  

Defense Minister Benny Gantz commented on the agreement on Tuesday, saying that it is important to Israel's future and resilience, but that it is no less important to safeguard "the State of Israel's defense supremacy." He added, "It is possible to make a peace treaty that displays responsibility with regard to defense," and that the F-35 is the most advanced fighter plane in the world, and that "it would be bad for Israel if it would start making its way through the world."  

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