Wasserman-Schultz Opposing U.S. Sale of F-35 Fighter Jets to UAE Puts Democratic Strategy on Display

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An F-35 stealth fighter: There's no reason for the pro-Israel camp to go to war with the Trump administration over selling F-35s to the UAE
An F-35 stealth fighter: There's no reason for the pro-Israel camp to go to war with the Trump administration over selling F-35s to the UAECredit: Rick Bowmer,AP

Reflecting the Democratic Party’s Jewish campaign strategy ahead of November elections, a leading party member said the United States should not sell advanced F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates because it puts Israel’s security in danger.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida made the case in a weekend op-ed in the Miami Herald. The sale was announced together with last month’s normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE — a breakthrough because for years it was thought impossible to forge a deal with a Gulf Arab state absent a peace deal with the Palestinians.

In targeting Jewish voters, the Republicans have touted an array of policy changes in line with Israel’s right-wing government. Among them is the normalization agreement. Top Israeli and Emirati officials will meet in Washington, D.C., next week to formalize the deal.

Wasserman Schultz, a past chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, wrote that the sale of the jets to the UAE would erode Israel’s qualitative military edge, which the United States by law must uphold. The fighter jet has “unique capabilities that should be reserved only for Israel’s use,” the Jewish lawmaker wrote.

Congress has the option of keeping the sale from going ahead.

Following the announcement of the normalization agreement, news broke that Trump administration officials gave the UAE military a classified briefing about the F-35.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied that he agreed to allow the UAE to obtain the fighter jet, which has stealth capabilities, under the normalization agreement, despite claims that he privately consented.

The UAE believes it has received a commitment from the U.S. to buy the F-35. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner tacitly acknowledged this in an interview, saying that the agreement “should increase the probability” that the UAE will be able to purchase the F-35.

U.S. officials are casting the sale of the jets as part of a broader strategy of uniting Israel and Sunni Arab states to contain the Iranian threat in the region.

Wasserman Schultz said that calculus had it backwards.

“In addition to the possibility that a future UAE government could be hostile to Israel, the UAE is the locus of thousands of regular Iranian travelers, including intelligence operatives, who will seek sensitive information about the F-35,” wrote Wasserman Schultz, who serves as the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. “Clearly, a more militarized region is not safer for Israel or for U.S. interests”

Wasserman Schultz, who is seeking reelection to a ninth term in Congress, said the deal would undercut work toward encouraging other Arab states to normalize relations with Israel.

Israel already has F-35s in service. The first two arrived in Israel in late 2016. Israel has ordered a total of 50 of the $100 million planes from the Lockheed Martin company, with delivery to be completed by December 2024.

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