During a visit to Dubai on Friday ahead of meetings in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Macron cemented the sale in a ceremony with the UAE’s de facto leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in broader economic and security talks.
The agreement of more than 17 billion euros concerns 80 Rafale jets and 12 Caracal helicopters manufactured by the French Dassault Aviation and Airbus, in what Macron called “the biggest military contract in our history”. Dassault shares jumped 9% on news of the deal.
The contract follows Rafale’s orders from Croatia, Greece and Egypt this year. Its value exceeds the French naval group’s share in the € 56 billion submarine contract that Canberra canceled in September, according to the Defense Ministry.
Relations between France and the United Arab Emirates have grown stronger in recent years as Macron and Sheikh Mohammed aligned themselves on many issues in the Middle East.
In Libya, both states backed Khalifa Haftar, the general who controls much of the eastern part of the country. They have both had difficult relations with Turkey and share a deep distrust and concern for Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The UAE has also supported France’s efforts to combat jihadist groups in the Sahel states of sub-Saharan Africa with funds and by distributing aid to the region.
The two leaders “reaffirmed their common support for the elections and for the withdrawal of mercenaries in Libya,” said the French presidency, referring to the departure of foreign fighters which was part of a ceasefire agreement negotiated by the UN . Libya is organizing the first round of its presidential election on December 24. Macron also called on the UAE to step up humanitarian efforts in Lebanon.
The Gulf state followed Saudi Arabia’s lead by withdrawing its ambassador from Beirut in October, ostensibly because of comments by a Lebanese minister on the Saudi intervention in the Yemen war, but also because of the concerns about the influence of Hezbollah, the powerful political and militant movement. On Friday, George Kordahi, the Lebanese minister at the heart of the conflict, said he would step down after France called for his resignation to give Macron’s initiative a chance to improve relations between Lebanon and the Gulf.
Abu Dhabi has been a long-time customer of French Dassault – it has purchased Mirage 2000 fighter jets – and France has long been one of the UAE’s main security providers alongside the United States.
The Rafale deal follows a decade of negotiations and comes as the United Arab Emirates’ attempt to acquire US-made F-35 jets, which was agreed to by the Trump administration, makes the under scrutiny in Washington. The Biden administration has expressed concerns over the F35 deal due to concerns over Abu Dhabi’s use of Huawei’s 5G telecommunications network and the risk of technology transfer to China.
“France has shown itself to be a more willing defense and security partner to the United Arab Emirates and a number of other Arab states,” said Charles Forrester, analyst at defense consultancy Janes. He added that the flexibility of French manufacturers in allowing buyers such as the United Arab Emirates to incorporate homemade weapons and equipment into planes made their offer attractive and gave the Gulf state more security over supply chain issues.
The Rafale deals have not been exempt from criticism, including after Macron said he would not subordinate the Egyptian order to human rights demands because he did not want to undermine them. anti-Islamist terrorism efforts in the region.
Human rights activists have lambasted the arms deal with Egypt, saying France was only encouraging the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, which has carried out a repressive crackdown in civil society.
Human Rights Watch also criticized the UAE’s deal because the country is part of a Saudi-led Arab coalition that is fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The United Arab Emirates withdrew most of its troops from Yemen in 2019.
Macron said he was an “ardent supporter” of a deal that would boost French industry and employment. He said France had a role to play in the Middle East and “the power to ensure balance”.
“We cannot act to help Lebanon, to help Iraq, we cannot act against terrorism in the region. . . if we don’t put ourselves in a position where we can talk to everyone and have trusting and strategic relationships with our partners, ”Macron told reporters.
Macron supports efforts to negotiate a peace deal between Yemeni rebels and Saudi Arabia.
Additional reporting by Samer Al-Atrush in Riyadh