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White House moving forward with sale of F-35 jets to UAE, top Democrat says

Representative Eliot Engel says Trump administration notified Congress of its intent to sell as many as 50 F-35 fighter jets to UAE
Because of the qualitative military edge restriction, the F-35 had long been denied to Arab states, while Israel had about 24 jets
F-35 had long been denied to Arab states because of Washington's guarantees of Israel's regional military superiority (AFP/File photo)
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The White House has agreed to sell F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, following the Gulf state's decision to recognise Israel, a US lawmaker says.

Representative Eliot Engel, the outgoing head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement on Thursday that the Trump administration informally gave a required notification to Congress on the sale.

Bloomberg News, citing four people familiar with the matter, reported that the White House notified Congress that it intends to sell 50 F-35 fighter jets, worth about $10.4bn, to the UAE. 

Still, Engel, who has previously tangled with the Trump administration over weapons sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, said congressional approval was no sure thing.

"The export of this aircraft requires very careful consideration and Congress must analyse all the ramifications," Engel said. "Rushing these sales is not in anyone's interest."

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In addition to citing concerns about maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge (QME) in the region - which previously meant the F-35 had long been denied to Arab states - Engel said the plane's "technology also must be safeguarded from our greatest global adversaries".

"With Russia and China active in the region, the American people will require unimpeachable assurances that our most advanced military capabilities will be protected," he added.

Israel initially balked at the prospective sale but has dropped its opposition after what it described as US guarantees that Israeli military superiority would be preserved.

"We all face a common threat," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Thursday, in an apparent allusion to Iran.

"But with that said, it was important that the [Israeli] defence establishment received this clear American undertaking to preserve our qualitative military edge," added Netanyahu.

Earlier this month, Qatar also made a formal request for the advanced fighter jets, in a deal that, if pursued, may strain US ties with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

Two US House lawmakers are set to introduce a bill this week that would require the US Department of Defence to consider selling Israel bunker-buster bombs capable of penetrating heavily fortified underground facilities. 

The bill, aimed at giving Israel protection from perceived Iranian capabilities, would be the latest in a series of legislative moves aimed at guaranteeing Israel's military superiority in the region.