on the hill

Congressional Democrats concerned about potential F-35 sale to UAE

The Trump administration is expected to notify Congress about a planned deal next month

Martin Falbisoner

Capitol Hill

While House Democrats grapple with a range of concerns about the Trump administration’s potential sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates — which could reportedly come as soon as December — they expect the sale negotiations to proceed quickly.

Barring delays in negotiations with Israel, the Trump administration is expected to notify Congress about a planned deal with the UAE in mid-to-late October, a senior congressional staffer told Jewish Insider on Thursday.

As negotiations on a sale continue, House Democrats are examining a series of implications of such a deal, including the potential threat it could pose to Israel’s qualitative military edge.

“I support upgraded ties between Israel and other regional partners, but Israel’s safety and security is non-negotiable,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) told JI. “The administration must first verify beyond a shadow of a doubt that these arms sales comply with the bipartisan law that ensures Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region,” he added. “Our ally Israel’s security is too important to accept any deal that falls short.”

Democrats are also concerned that China could gain access to U.S. stealth technology through the UAE, the congressional staffer told JI. And questions remain about the broader regional implications of an F-35 sale to the UAE — particularly whether other countries which sign normalization agreements will also receive F-35s, and if Egypt and Jordan, which have long-established ties with Israel, could also purchase the stealth jets.

Some Democrats also worry that the UAE could use F-35s or other armaments in Yemen. Abu Dhabi has pulled most of its forces out of Yemen, but continues to back some of the factions in conflict in the country.

“I welcome normalization between Israel and the UAE, which is a good thing for regional stability,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told JI. “That said, I do not want this normalization deal to be used as a blank check for more weapons to Emiratis and Saudis which could fuel further conflict in Yemen or elsewhere in the region.”

Leaders on the House Foreign Relations Committee have also spoken out publicly against an F-35 sale to the UAE.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), one of several legislators vying for the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairmanship, said in a Zoom call hosted by Democratic Majority for Israel on Thursday that he is “absolutely opposed to that sale.”

And current chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), said in a video interview at a Jerusalem Post conference on Thursday: “I’m concerned about it because once you lose that qualitative military edge, it’s a slippery slope,” he said. “You need to work with these countries, they are our allies and they are potential allies to Israel, but we just cannot do anything that could potentially cause Israel to lose the qualitative military edge.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) — who is also vying for the HFAC chairmanship — told JI last week that he, like Murphy, was concerned the UAE would use F-35s in Yemen.

“These sales would be particularly troublesome in light of the UAE’s record of human rights abuses in Yemen and have serious implications for regional stability,” Castro said.

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