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In regional game changer, US seeks to sell F-35 jets to UAE

By AFP - Nov 01,2020 - Last updated at Nov 01,2020

WASHINGTON — The United States has agreed to sell more than $10 billion of top-of-the-line F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, potentially reshaping power dynamics in the turbulent region, Congress was informed Thursday.

In an informal but required notification to Congress, President Donald Trump's administration said it had approved the sale of 50 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters — equivalent to Israel's fleet of the jets — worth an estimated $10.4 billion, a congressional aide said.

If it goes ahead, the sale could "significantly change the military balance in the Gulf and affect Israel's military edge", said Representative Eliot Engel, a Democrat who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voiced skepticism, saying Trump was rushing a deal without thinking through the consequences.

"Claiming Israel will maintain its edge while offering Abu Dhabi the same number of these sophisticated stealth warplanes as Israel simply does not add up," Menendez said.

The United Arab Emirates — which has been increasingly assertive in the region, including in Yemen and Libya — sought the advanced warplanes as it was speaking to the United States ahead of its landmark recognition of Israel last month.

The normalisation — followed by similar moves by Bahrain and Sudan — was a diplomatic coup for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump, but Israel state has also long opposed US sales of top-end warplanes to any Arab states including Egypt and Jordan, which already have peace treaties with Israel.

Netanyahu, however, indicated last week that Israel would not object to the UAE deal after Defence Minister Benny Gantz, his uneasy coalition partner, received assurances during a trip to the Pentagon that Israel would maintain its military advantage.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper was visiting Israel on Thursday to follow up on ways to bolster the US ally, an undeclared nuclear power.

News site Breaking Defence said Israel was seeking to preserve its edge by buying other advanced weapons including the V-22 Osprey helicopter-aircraft hybrid.

The F-35 is considered one of the world’s most advanced — and most expensive — warplanes.

Built by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 has stealth capability as well as high-end sensors and data-collection tools, meaning the plane can be deployed for air strikes, air-to-air combat or intelligence gathering.

A State Department official declined to confirm the UAE sale, saying that it does not comment on notifications to Congress.

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