Three US senators on Wednesday launched a bid to block the sale of top-of-the-line F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates, voicing concern over the deal seen as a reward for the nation’s normalizing of ties with Israel.
Even if the three can persuade a majority in Congress to oppose the $23 billion package, lawmakers would face an uphill climb to override a veto by outgoing US President Donald Trump.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat close to President-elect Joe Biden, said that the UAE violated terms of previous sales, pointing to reports that weapons sent to the US ally have been discovered in war-ravaged Libya and Yemen.
“I support the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, but nothing in that agreement requires us to flood the region with more weapons and facilitate a dangerous arms race,” Murphy said in a statement.
He sponsored the resolution with Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rand Paul, a Republican who is generally supportive of Trump but is critical of US military interventions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week formally informed Congress of the sale, hailing the UAE normalization with Israel and casting the sale as part of efforts against mutual adversary Iran.
The UAE had long requested the F-35s, which have stealth capacity and can be deployed for precision bombing, intelligence gathering and air-to-air combat.
Israel had considered its own F-35 fleet to be vital to its own strategic edge over Arab nations but dropped its opposition to the US sale as it saw the advantage of normalized ties and as Washington has promised the sale will not undermine its qualitative military edge.
Congress last year tried to block a major arms package for Saudi Arabia and the UAE but failed to muster the two-thirds majority to override Trump’s vetoes.