Oct. 30 (UPI) — The White House has informally notified Congress of the proposed $10.4 billion sale, which would make the United Arab Emirates the second Middle East nation, after Israel, to own the advanced planes.
The announcement was sent to the House Committee of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, bypassing the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a State Department agency which normally researches the effects of foreign military sales and sends recommendations of approval to Congress.
The plan, to sell 50 F-35 fighter planes to the UAE would change the Middle East military balance of power, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said on Thursday.
Among the issues Congress must address before endorsing the sale is that of “qualitative military edge,” a U.S. pledge to Israel since the 1960s under the Arms Export Control Act.
The AECA says that Israel is able to obtain the most up-to-date armaments from the United States — and a declaration of intent to continue the agreement was signed last week.
Israel first obtained F-35s in 2016, and currently has 15 in two combat-ready squadrons of the Lockheed Martin-built plane. The UAE would become the 15th country to fly the plane, but the U.S. Congress must approve the sale.
“This technology would significantly change the military balance in the Gulf and affect Israel’s military edge,” Rep. Eliot Engel, House Committee on Foreign Affairs chairman, said in a statement on Thursday.
“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a game-changing stealth platform boasting advanced strike capability and unique sensor technology. The export of this aircraft requires very careful consideration and Congress must analyze all of the ramifications. Rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest,” Engel said.
The move to arm the UAE with F-35s comes after signing of the Abraham Accords in September, a peace treaty involving Israel, Bahrain and UAE, and in the midst of a strained relationship between the United States and NATO ally Turkey. In 2019, Turkey was removed from the list of F-35 components manufacturers.
“We must maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge, as provided in U.S. law, and ensure Israel’s military superiority in the region, as Israel remains our most crucial ally there,” Engel said. “Israel currently has exclusive access in the region to the F-35, which has guaranteed its military edge over the last several years. As Congress reviews this sale, it must be clear that changes to the status quo will not put Israel’s military advantage at risk.”
Congress must also explore the possibility that, by exporting the plane to the UAE, sensitive intelligence about the F-35 could fall into Iranian, Chinese or Russian hands. the UAE already has Chinese-made drones in its arsenal, and in 2018 signed a strategic partnership agreement with Russia.