Israel will not oppose U.S. sale of F-35 to UAE

JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israel said on Friday it will not oppose U.S. sales of “specific weapons systems” to the United Arab Emirates, in an apparent reference to the F-35 warplanes sought by Abu Dhabi.

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Under a principle of preserving Israel’s “qualitative military edge”, the United States consults with it on proposed sales of advanced arms to other countries in the region.

Israel has reiterated a need to maintain its military superiority even since forging official ties with the UAE and its fellow Gulf Arab state Bahrain under deals brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump last month.

Washington agreed to consider allowing the UAE to buy F-35 stealth jets in a side deal to a normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz reached agreements in Washington this week with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a joint statement, said would significantly upgrade Israel’s military capabilities.

“Since the U.S. 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,” they said.

The statement from Israel - which uses the F-35 - did not mention the jet explicitly.

Asked about potential F-35 sales to the UAE, Trump said the “process is moving along”.

“We’ve never had a dispute with UAE; they’ve always been on our side. And that process is moving along -- I think hopefully rapidly,” Trump said. He was speaking in the White House Oval Office after announcing that Sudan would be the next country in the region to forge ties with Israel.

The removal of Israeli opposition clears one important hurdle to U.S. congressional approval of F-35 sales to the UAE.U.S. lawmakers have tried to rein in the Trump administration’s plans for arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia over concerns over their involvement in the war in Yemen.

Israel enjoys broad support in Congress and if it opposed the deals it would be nearly impossible for them to advance.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees, whose members have criticised the UAE’s role in civilian deaths in Yemen, have the right to review and block weapons sales.

Past measures to block arms sales passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support, but failed to get enough Republican backing to override Trump’s vetoes.

Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Peter Graff