Netanyahu denounces reports of ‘secret clause’ to sell F-35s, drones from UAE in peace deal

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Netanyahu was responding on Tuesday to a report in one of the country’s leading newspapers alleging the existence of a “secret clause” in Israel’s deal to normalize relations with the UAE – a clause that would allow the UAE to buy billions of dollars in advanced military equipment from the United States, including drones, F-35 stealth fighters and other weapons.

History has stirred up hackles in Israel because of the potential threat to Israel’s military superiority in the region. Israel has long opposed sales of strategic weapons systems to other countries in the Middle East and has repeatedly expressed concerns about the possibility in the weeks leading up to the conclusion of the normalization agreement.

In Washington, a White House National Security Council official directed CNN to the written announcement of the deal, which contains no clauses or references to arms deals. “The deal is the joint statement we released on Thursday,” the official said, referring to the 556-word statement on the White House website.

In other corners of the US capital, reports of the alleged deal have been surprised.Officials at the State Department office that handles U.S. arms sales to foreign countries were taken aback by the reports, two State Department officials said, adding that if there was such a deal, they had not been informed.

If there was a sale in the UAE, the State Department would be responsible for overseeing the process. During this process, which requires Congressional approval to complete, the United States must ensure that Israel retains its qualitative military advantage in the region, a requirement enshrined in US law in 2008. The Department of Defense The state directed the investigations to the White House.

On Capitol Hill, Republican and Democratic aides said the relevant Hill committees had not been made aware of a deal of this nature and had no new UAE transfers before them for consideration at this time.

Netanyahu’s office backed up his tweet with a lengthy statement categorically denying that the deal included any understanding of US arms sales to the UAE.

“The historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates did not include Israel’s consent to any arms deal between the United States and the United Arab Emirates,” the statement said. “From the start, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed the sale of F-35s and other advanced weapons to any country in the Middle East, including Arab countries that have peace agreements with the State of Israel. “

Netanyahu’s rebuttal follows an article in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, according to which the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates and de facto leader Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had demanded that a clause be included in the agreement that would allow the Emirates to ‘buy F-35 fighter jets, drones and other advanced weapons for billions of dollars. The report cited unnamed U.S. and Emirati officials.

The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced their plans to normalize relations on August 13. Since then, phone lines have been opened between the two countries and trade deals have been announced.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who had just been released from hospital after back surgery, decided the story warrants a press conference. He said the proliferation of the F-35s was “not good for Israel,” adding, “We need to talk to the Emiratis, to the Americans, and make sure our security interests are respected. ”

The reports sparked a widespread reaction for several reasons.

First, there is the manner in which the UAE-Israel deal was concluded. Unusually for a deal of this nature, Netanyahu kept his Foreign and Defense Minister (who happen to be rival parties) in the dark, telling Israeli media that he had done so at the behest of the United States.

According to Israeli newspaper reports, the first time the two ministers heard that Israel had agreed to suspend plans to annex parts of the West Bank in exchange for normalization with the UAE was during the announcement of the agreement.

An ideal drone customer

Second, the advanced weaponry itself. The UAE is considered an ideal drone customer and was the customer some U.S. officials have cited as a potential beneficiary, following the recent easing of regulations on the export of drones.

Some U.S. defense officials have also expressed interest in getting the F-35 from the United Arab Emirates after Turkey was kicked out of the program, leaving more than 100 jets without clients. The UAE military is seen as potentially more capable of integrating and operating forward aircraft, as opposed to other regional armies, such as Saudi Arabia.

The third reason the story took root may be an August 14 interview that US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman gave to NPR. When asked if the UAE-Israel deal would mean that Abu Dhabi would now procure advanced American weapons, he replied, somewhat cryptically: “The more the Emirates become a friend of Israel, become a partner of Israel.” Israel, become a regional ally of the United States. United States, I obviously think this changes the threat assessment and might work in the best interests of the Emirates on this issue. ”

And finally, there is Netanyahu’s statement, which indicates that Israel has repeatedly raised concerns about the possibility of sales of advanced weapons to “any country in the Middle East” in July and August – and that the Prime Minister himself had told Friedman that they would not be. acceptable.

Explicit objections

“In his July 7 conversation with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly expressed Israel’s opposition to selling F-35s and other advanced weapons to any countries of the Middle East, including those having peace agreements with Israel ”. said the statement.

“On July 8, the Prime Minister sent a letter – via Ambassador Friedman – to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in which he reiterated that Israel’s position remains unchanged even after the conclusion of peace agreements” , the statement continued.

He goes on to say that on August 3, at Netanyahu’s request, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer met with Pompeo and once again “underlined Israel’s opposition to the sale of F- 35 and other advanced weapon systems to any country in the Middle East. . ”

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