Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that there is no basis to Defense Minister Benny Gantz's claim that a deal to allow the UAE to purchase F-35 fighter jets from the United States was conducted without the knowledge of the Defense Ministry.
Speaking at a press conference regarding the recently announced peace deal with Sudan, Netanyahu said, "There is no basis for that claim." Netanyahu added, "I can tell you that there were no undercover negotiations and that the sale of weapons was not one of the Emirati conditions for the peace deal. Only yesterday did we agree to it."
In response, Gantz said, "As defense minister I can say definitively that the defense establishment did not know of and was not informed of the negotiations to provide advanced weaponry to the UAE by the prime minister."
Gantz added, "Following the agreement that was signed with the UAE, I assumed that the Defense Ministry would manage the negotiations that would preserve Israel's qualitative military edge, through personal involvement with the American administration. The Defense Ministry did not have the information necessary to properly and responsibly conduct the process."
Gantz went on, "I am proud of our quick and decisive action that led to the deal I signed on Thursday with the U.S. Defense Secretary, which promises to preserve Israel's qualitative military edge."
On Friday, Gantz claimed that negotiations on the sale of arms were known to some Israeli officials, but were kept hidden from him and Israel's security establishment. This came after Netanyahu said that the sale of the jets was not part of the peace deal signed between Israel and the UAE in Washington, and that this came about through discussions held by Defense Minister Benny Gantz with the Pentagon.
In September, Netanyahu denied a New York Times report claiming that he had chosen not to block a U.S. plan to sell advanced weapons to the United Arab Emirates behind closed doors.
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"Repeating a false allegation against Prime Minister Netanyahu does not make it true," read a statement released at the time. "At no point in talks with the United States leading to the historic breakthrough with the United Arab Emirates on August 13 did the Prime Minister give Israel's consent to the sale of advanced weapons to the Emirates."
However, a statement released by Gantz's office said that "after the peace deal was signed with the UAE, the defense minister learned that, concurrently, negotiations on the sale of advanced weaponry" to the UAE took place. The statement then claimed that this was known to Israeli officials who were involved in the talks, but was kept secret from Israel's security establishment.
"The Defense Minister sees paramount strategic value in achieving peace and regional stability, and that is why he has led determined and independent dialogue with the American administration since the agreement was signed."
This, the statement said, is "in order to ensure the deal is fulfilled whilst securing Israel's Qualitative Military Edge and bolstering the Israeli army for the coming decades."
At the press conference, Netanyahu also referred to the normalization agreement between Israel and Sudan. Among other things, he said: "I'm telling you right now that there will be more countries. Iran used Sudan. It was a country through which they smuggled very dangerous weapons to Hamas. It forced me to find a way to prevent it, but that has changed. Happily, relations with Sudan have changed in the last two years. At first in secret, and then in visible contacts. An Israeli delegation will leave [to Khartoum] soon."