Israel Still Opposes F-35 Sale to UAE, Despite Normalization Deal, Senior Officials Say

Israel had pressured the U.S. to block the sale of the advanced fighter planes in the past, but Israeli sources fear that Netanyahu and his confidants may have made a secret agreement without consulting defense officials

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

Senior Israeli officials familiar with the moves to tighten relations with the United Arab Emirates told Haaretz Monday that the normalization agreements will not change Israel’s long-standing objection to the sale of American F-35 fighter jets to the Gulf state.

Since the announcement of the agreements being drawn up to establish diplomatic relations 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, Prime Minister Benjamin 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. 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.

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Sources told Haaretz that the Gulf states, including the UAE, had pressed Israel numerous times to lift its objections so that such deals could go through. These sources expressed the fear that during the secret talks led by Netanyahu and Netanyahu confidants Mossad head Yossi Cohen, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, there may have been a secret agreement made on this issue without informing Israel’s top defense officials, who were excluded until now from the talks.

Infographic on the F-35 aircraft

Question marks have been raised about the future of the opposition to such military sales in the Israeli media as well. 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.  

Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin tweeted Friday: “It is important to remember that Abu Dhabi seeks to acquire very sophisticated weapons from the United States... It is important to ensure that such a process will include Israel’s [Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry] and the IDF if it will result in the reduction of Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge or QME.”

Yadlin returned to the issue in an interview with Israel’s Kan Bet public radio Sunday, saying, “We know they are asking for very sophisticated weapons from the Americans and the Israelis, and what’s stopping this is that there is no peace treaty between the countries and the Israeli qualitative edge. And it could be, and that’s what I was warning about in my tweet, that someone made allowances before consulting with the defense minister and the Israel Defense Forces, and that reminded me of another incident. That’s what I was hinting at.”

In his Friday column, Barnea was more explicit. “Does the agreement include a secret clause that changes American procurement policy? Is there a silent agreement on this issue between the three partners? In other words, is there something here that recalls the story of the sale of German submarines to Egypt behind the back of the defense establishment? I have no answer.”

On Monday he wrote further, “Was Netanyahu secretly asked to remove the Israeli veto? I don’t know. What did he answer, if he answered? It’s no coincidence that these questions recall the agreement Netanyahu gave Germany, behind the back of the defense establishment, to sell advanced submarines to Egypt.”

Following these arguments, senior Israeli officials told Haaretz that Israel has not changed in any way its long-standing objection to the sale of American F-35s to the UAE.

In a statement, the Prime Minister’s Office said that in the talks, Israel “has not changed its consistent positions against the sale of tie-breaking arms and advanced defense technologies to any state in the Middle East.”

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