Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied reports that his cabinet has given a go-ahead for the sale of fifth-generation US jets under the recent deal with the United Arab Emirates.
“The historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include any Israeli agreement on any arms deal between the United States and the United Arab Emirates,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement on Tuesday.
“From the outset, the Prime Minister opposed the sale of F35s and other advanced weapons to any countries in the Middle East, including Arab countries making peace with the State of Israel,” read the statement.
The prime minister’s office added that Netanyahu’s position has not changed, and that he voiced “consistent opposition” to any transfer of the jets to the UAE as recently as a 2 June meeting of Israel’s National Security Council and during a conversation with US envoy to Israel, David Friedman, on 7 July.
The comments came in response to a report in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, which cited unnamed American and UAE officials as claiming that the Arab kingdom had conditioned the entire peace agreement with Israel on the go-ahead for the purchase of the much-desired jets.
On 13 August, the UAE became a third Arab nation, after Egypt and Jordan, to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. The accord capped years of covertly growing cooperation between Tel Aviv and its former mortal enemies in the Gulf, who have found a shared adversary in Iran.
UAE military officials have previously expressed their willingness to buy F-35s. Talk of of the Emirates’ candidacy for the programme – expected to cost $1.5 trillion to American taxpayers over its 55-year lifespan – emerged in 2017 as the Trump administration pursued closer military ties with its Gulf allies and inaugurated the US-UAE Defence Cooperation Agreement.
Israel has traditionally opposed any sale of advanced weapons to Gulf states. The United States has also held a policy of preserving Israel’s “qualitative military edge” in the Middle East since the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Rene Clarke Cooper, a senior official at the US State Department, quashed rumours of F-35 sales to the UAE last year. “The question (of) are there any considerations or conversations about the F35 — the short answer is no,” he said in an interview last November.
“The long answer,” he added, “is we have been working with them and continue to work with them on upgrading, expanding their F-16 capability and upgrading and expanding their F-16 posture, so that is where we are."