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Pompeo says sale of F-35 jets to UAE was 'critical' for Israel-UAE normalisation

Former US secretary of state says sale reassured UAE that the US and Israel considered it a trusted security partner
Pompeo described the sale as one of a series of actions that allowed the normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE to move forward.
Pompeo described sale as one of a series of actions that allowed the normalisation agreement between Israel and UAE to move forward (AFP)

Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) played a "critical" role in convincing the Gulf state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, despite repeated denials from Israel.

In an interview to be published on Friday with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Pompeo described the sale as one of a series of actions that allowed the normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE to move forward and eventually be signed.

The importance of the sale lies in the fact that it reassured Abu Dhabi that Washington considered it a trusted security partner, Pompeo explained, adding that it passed on a message that the United States, the UAE and Israel all shared the same security concept.

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"The very sale says that Israelis and Americans believe that the Emirates can share their security concept," Pompeo told the newspaper in an excerpt published on Thursday.

The news of the sale last year had been met with controversy in Israel, which originally had exclusive use of the F-35 in the Middle East. Israel initially baulked at any other Middle East powers obtaining the plane, citing a US precedent that it should maintain a military advantage in the region.

Under a principle of preserving Israel's "Qualitative Military Edge", the United States is required to ensure that Israel maintains military superiority in the region, and consults with Israel on proposed sales of advanced arms to other countries in the region.

In September 2020, the New York Times reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly agreed to the arms deal amid a push for normalisation with the UAE. Israel denied the report when it first came out.

In October 2020, Netanyahu issued a joint statement with Defence Minister Benny Gantz saying that they had both agreed "that since the US 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".

Security risk for Washington

Pompeo was one of several high-profile Republicans considered to be potential 2024 presidential candidates to have planned to visit Israel in recent weeks.

His recent plans to make a trip to Israel coincided with a visit by the current secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, who travelled to the Middle East in an attempt to "solidify" last month's cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

On 20 January, Trump's last day in office, Washington and Abu Dhabi signed a $23bn deal for 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones and other weapons technologies from a number of major US defence contractors. According to the deal, the jets are set to be delivered by 2027. 

President Joe Biden issued a review of the sale once in office and announced its advancement in mid-April. However, recent concerns over growing Chinese influence in the UAE may again put the deal at risk.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that several anonymous US officials raised concerns that increasingly close ties between Abu Dhabi and Beijing could hinder the sale.

The UAE has attempted to quell concerns that transferring sensitive US technology to Abu Dhabi created a security risk for Washington.

The UAE ambassador to Washington, Yousef Otaiba, told the Journal that his country had "a long and consistent track record of protecting US military technology, both in coalitions where we’ve served alongside the US military and inside the UAE where a broad range of sensitive US military assets have been deployed for many years".