Israel signaled Friday it would not oppose the United States selling F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In a joint statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz did not specifically mention the F-35, but they said Israel would not oppose the United States selling the UAE “certain weapons systems” after Washington agreed to unspecified upgrades for Israel’s military.
“The prime minister and the defense minister both agree that since the U.S. is upgrading Israel’s military capability and is maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, Israel will not oppose the sale of these systems to the UAE,” they said.
Abu Dhabi has long sought to buy the F-35 from the United States but has in the past been blocked over concerns that selling the U.S. military’s most advanced aircraft to the UAE would violate the U.S. commitment to maintaining Israel’s military advantage in the region.
The U.S. commitment to Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge is enshrined in a 2008 law.
But the Trump administration has been working to advance the F-35 sale after the UAE and Israel signed a normalization agreement at the White House last month.
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials initially continued to express Israel’s opposition to the UAE buying the F-35 even after the normalization agreement was signed.
The shift signaled Friday comes after Gantz met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the Pentagon on Thursday.
“I want to state, again, how committed we are to Israel’s qualitative military edge when it comes to defense sales, and our commitment to Israel’s security, which has been long-standing, and it’s guaranteed and ironclad,” Esper said alongside Gantz in brief remarks before the meeting.
During the visit, Gantz reached “understandings” with the United States that “will allow the procurement of advanced weapon systems that will significantly upgrade Israel’s military capabilities, maintain its security and its military advantage in the region as well as its qualitative military edge in the coming decades,” according to his and Netanyahu’s Friday statement.
Friday’s statement also came as President Trump was announcing the opening of relations between Israel and Sudan, building upon the historic breakthroughs of the Israel-UAE deal and a normalization deal between Israel and Bahrain.
Asked about F-35 sales to the UAE during the Oval Office announcement about the Israel-Sudan deal, Trump told reporters “that process is moving along.”
U.S. lawmakers in both parties have continued to express concern that selling the UAE F-35s would run afoul of the U.S. commitment to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.
A bipartisan House bill introduced earlier this month would reiterate the U.S. commitment. And earlier this week, two Senate Democrats introduced a bill that would require the administration to certify that Israel’s qualitative military edge would not be jeopardized before it can move forward with selling the F-35 to other Middle Eastern countries.