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US Democrat senators introduce bill to restrict sale of F-35 jets to UAE

Senators want White House to certify Israel's military advantage in region would not be jeopardised by sales to other Middle Eastern countries
The UAE has long expressed interest in acquiring the F-35 stealth jets and had been promised a chance to buy them when they agreed to normalise relations with Israel.
UAE has long expressed interest in acquiring F-35 jets and was promised chance to buy them when agreeing to normalise ties with Israel (AFP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

Two Democratic senators introduced a bill aimed at restricting the Trump administration's efforts to sell F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.

The legislation, introduced by Senators Bob Menendez and Dianne Feinstein, would require the White House to certify that Israel's military advantage in the region would not be jeopardised before the US starts selling its most advanced military aircraft to Middle Eastern countries.

Feinstein said on Tuesday that Congress has an obligation to ensure the nation's most advanced technology remains limited to the use of the US military and its closest allies.

"That's why this legislation places significant limits on this or any future administration’s ability to sell the F-35 aircraft to the Middle East, where it could threaten our interests and Israel’s military edge in the region," she said.

The UAE has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealth jets and had been promised a chance to buy them in a side deal made when they agreed to normalise relations with Israel in August.

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Still, lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns that selling the F-35s would run afoul of a US commitment that is enshrined in law to maintain Israel's "qualitative military edge."

Because of the qualitative military edge restriction, the F-35s were previously denied to Arab states, while Israel has acquired about 24 of the aircraft.

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Developed by US defence contractor Lockheed Martin, F-35s have been sought by many countries around the world, including Turkey and Qatar. The jets cost around $100m each.

"Ensuring that the United States and its crucial partner in the Middle East, Israel, maintain their critical qualitative military advantages over all potential adversaries is enshrined in law and must be one of the highest priorities of any president and Congress," Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. 

"This rush to close an F-35 deal by President Trump before the end of his term could well undermine that objective."

Last month, sources told Reuters that the UAE and US were aiming to have a letter of agreement in place for the F-35 deal by December.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said a working concept was for Israeli air defences to be able to detect the UAE's F-35s with technology that can effectively defeat the stealth capabilities of the jets.

F-35 fighter jets sold to the UAE could also be built in a way that ensured the same planes owned by Israel outperformed others sold in the region, defence experts said.

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