Israel Denies It Gave Green Light for U.S. F-35 Jet Sale to UAE After Deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has denied that the country gave approval for the potential sale of America's F-35 stealth fighter jet to the United Arab Emirates as part of the historic normalization deal announced by the two nations last week.

The normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE will allow greater political, economic, and technological cooperation between the two Middle Eastern nations, and will also have won the UAE favor with President Donald Trump's administration, which facilitated the deal.

There has also been speculation that the deal will allow the UAE to purchase U.S. military equipment previously withheld to protect Israel's military edge over potential regional enemies. Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation armed with the F-35—America's fifth generation fighter jet touted as the most advanced in the world.

Israel's Ynet news website reported Tuesday that the normalization agreement contained a secret clause approving the sale of F-35 jets and advanced drones to the UAE. Ynet cited unnamed U.S. and Emirati sources in its report.

But Netanyahu's office and other Israeli officials dismissed the report. "To begin with, the prime minister opposed selling the F-35 and advanced weaponry to any countries in the Middle East, including Arab states that make peace with Israel," a statement from the prime minister's office to The Jerusalem Post read.

"The prime minister expressed this consistent stance time after time before the U.S. government and it hasn't changed," Netanyahu's office explained. "The peace agreement with the UAE does not include any article on the matter and the U.S. made clear to Israel that it will always make sure to protect Israel's qualitative edge."

The Post reported that Netanyahu had expressed this position to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on July 7 and to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, via Friedman, on July 8.

Netanyahu informed coalition partner and Defense Minister Benny Gantz—who will become prime minister in November 2021—of these discussions on July 29, while Israel's ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer stressed the Israeli position to Pompeo during a meeting on August 3.

Gantz told reporters Israel would not surrender regional military superiority, explaining on his release from hospital where he underwent back surgery: "It is possible and necessary to make a peace agreement while remaining responsible for our security."

Gantz said selling the F-35—which he called "the best combat aircraft in the world"—to other regional nations "is not a good idea."

Israel's Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Tuesday that the government remains opposed to any U.S. weapon sales that might undermine Israel's military superiority in the region. "It didn't happen," Cohen said of the F-35 agreement in an interview with the state-run Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation.

"Israel's policy is to maintain its military advantage in the region," Cohen said. "That is also our demand of the U.S. It must respect the request. The U.S. also asks us not to sell weapons we have to other countries and we respect it."

A State Department spokesperson referred Newsweek to the Israeli and UAE governments for clarification on the terms of the agreement. The spokesperson said the State Department will not discuss potential or pending arms sales before they are formally notified to Congress.

Newsweek has contacted the UAE government to request comment on the Ynet report.

This article has been updated to include comment from the State Department.

Israel, UAE, f-35, drones, fighter, US, normalization
An F-35 military aircraft of the Royal Netherlands Air Force trains on targets at the NATO training location at the Vliehors Range in Vlieland, Netherlands. VINCENT JANNINK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images/Getty