Despite Public Denial, Netanyahu Privately Let U.S. Sell F-35 to UAE, Report Says

Netanyahu denied New York Times report that he chose not to try to block arms deal between U.S. and Emirates while norm■ Netanyahu denies report

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U.S. soldiers standing next to an F-35A Lightning II stationed at the Emirati Al-Dhafra base, south of Abu Dhabi, April 2019.
U.S. soldiers standing next to an F-35A Lightning II stationed at the Emirati Al-Dhafra base, south of Abu Dhabi, April 2019.Credit: US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went along with Washington's plan to sell advanced weapons to the United Arab Emirates behind closed doors, despite his public opposition to the arms deal, The New York Times reported late Thursday, citing officials familiar with the negotiations.

The newspaper reported that Netanyahu willingly chose not to try to block the deal while taking part in the effort to establish diplomatic ties with the UAE at the same time, the sources said. U.S. President Donald Trump announced the normalization deal with Israel last month, without mentioning the arms sale discussions that were taking place between the U.S. and the Emirates concurrently.

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Netanyahu denied the report in a statement saying that at no point during talks did he give consent to the sale.

The New York Times' sources told the newspaper that Netanyahu lied when he said last month that the agreement to normalize relations with the UAE does not include an Israeli agreement for weapons sales between the Gulf state and the U.S. “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,” Netanyahu said at the time.

Netanyahu stopped publicly complaining about the sale of weapons to the UAE after meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem in August. According to the Times, officials said that Pompeo had brought Netanyahu "back in line."

According to the report, in addition to F-35 fighter jets and Reaper drones, the deal also involves the sale of EA-18G Growler jets, an electronic warfare plane that can jam enemy air defenses. The only other country that possesses the Growler is Australia, the newspaper said.

Benjamin Netanyahu reaches to one of the first two next-generation F-35 fighter jets in Israel, December 2016. Credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit,

Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, denied that Netanyahu gave approval to American officials for a weapons deal involving F-35s. He added that he was confident the Trump administration “is fully committed to maintaining” Israel’s military advantage in the region,” The New York Times reported.

The report further said that dozens of Emirati officials traveled to Washington last week to meet with defense and diplomatic officials to discuss the weapons package and the agreement with Israel.

The Prime Minister’s Office said last month that 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 that Israel had not changed its longstanding opposition to selling F-35 jets and other advanced weapons to the Gulf state, despite the accord.

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.

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