Remarkably, Israel’s powerful US lobbyists supported the arms sale.
Rabat – In a remarkable turn of events, Israel’s powerful lobby in Washington supported the UAE’s purchase of F-35 jets amid a $23 billion arms deal. The US Senate has failed to block two resolutions that aimed to prevent the massive arms sale from proceeding. The UAE’s purchase of NATO’s most advanced fighter jet is an intriguing development after initial opposition by Israel.
The US Senate voted down two resolutions, one to block the sale of 50 F-35 planes and one to block the sale of advanced US Reaper drones, one of the most powerful drones available. The UAE, an active participant in the conflict in Yemen, will also buy 14,000 bombs and munitions, although this was not deemed controversial enough to warrant a separate resolution.
UAE buys F-35s
The UAE is set to buy up to 50 F-35 fighter jets from the US, a remarkable turn of events that would make the UAE the first Arab state to purchase the advanced stealth fighter. The 50 units the UAE ordered would bring its air force up to par with Israel in regard to this fleet of the flexible multirole fighter plane.
The sale has brought fears of a potential new arms race in the Middle East. The UAE’s order would mean Israel sees its military advantage reduced in the region, something the US has pledged to avoid. It is likely that before the UAE will receive its 50 units, Israel will boost its own F-35 fleet. All of this is great news for major US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
The US State Department had earlier approved the deal, but many expected Israel’s powerful lobby in Washington to fight the deal that could threaten Israel’s military superiority in the region. A prominent Israeli lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), shattered those expectations on Wednesday when it announced it did not oppose the arms deal.
Israel’s army of lobbyists appears to have actually pushed for the deal to proceed. Israel-aligned lobbyists and commentators presented the issue as a means to arm the UAE against Iran, a nation that does not have any jet fighter that could possibly rival the F-35. The argument is that the UAE needs 50 of the world’s most advanced stealth fighters to “ward off” Iran’s aging fleet of outdated Cold War-era jets.
“A vote for this resolution is a vote to give Iran, China and Russia more power and influence in the region, and will make our world less safe,” said Senator Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Disingenuous arguments aside, the deal does confirm that Israel feels sufficiently comfortable with an increase in the UAE’s military capabilities. The two countries have moved rapidly to strengthen diplomatic relations following the signing of their “normalization” agreement on September 15.
Reaper drones and bombs for Yemen
While the sale of the prized F-35 featured on most headlines, the other military gear the US sold to the UAE could be even more controversial. The sale of US reaper drones warranted its own resolution aimed to block the deal, as the UAE is set to buy 20 of the MQ-9 Reaper drone.
The powerful drone became a scourge on the greater Middle East during the administration of former US President Barack Obama. The large unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) terrorized the Middle East, striking targets at will. The mere sound of the large drone has caused severe trauma to many families and young children throughout its deployment in the region.
In 2013, a 13-year-old Pakistani boy brought his translator to tears when he told Congress about the impact of these drones on his life.
“Now I prefer cloudy days when the drones don’t fly,” he told Congress. “When the sky brightens and becomes blue, the drones return and so does the fear.” He added that “children don’t play so often now, and have stopped going to school, education isn’t possible as long as the drones circle overhead.”
The US is now arming the UAE with both the F-35 and the MQ-9 Reaper drone while the Emiratis are actively engaged in the bloody conflict in Yemen. Controversially, the sale of 14,000 bombs and munitions did not garner a resolution to block the sale. Congress had earlier attempted to limit US involvement in the war in Yemen, which US President Donald Trump vetoed in 2019.