on the hill

Brad Schneider: Resolution will ‘remind’ lawmakers of QME guarantee to Israel

The Illinois congressman called on the lawmakers to thoroughly examine the UAE’s needs as well as U.S. obligations before following through with the sale

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) walks up the House steps on April 4, 2019.

Amid discussion on Capitol Hill over the potential sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) is working to remind lawmakers of Washington’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.

In a webinar with the Jewish Institute for National Security of America on Wednesday, Schneider elaborated on the reasoning behind the resolution he introduced earlier this month that reinforces the legal guarantees for Israel’s qualitative military edge. He said the bill is designed to remind both the Trump administration and Congress of the U.S.’s responsibility to guarantee the QME. 

“A lot of my colleagues in Congress are relatively new… 100 new members came in in the last Congress, and 80 in the one before that. There’s been quite a bit of turnover,” he said. “I thought it was important to remind not just the administration, but my colleagues as well that Congress has an important role to play here.”

Schneider said that, in considering an F-35 sale, the U.S. should carefully examine the UAE’s needs, as well as the U.S.’s own principles and obligations. The Democratic lawmaker seemed skeptical of the Trump administration’s negotiations over the sale.

“I fear that that conversation was had in a very different way and that promises were made,” he said. “The news about it seems to be reinforcing that there was a promise to the UAE, concurrent if not dependent on the Abraham [Accords] that they would get F-35 jets.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), an original cosponsor of Schneider’s bill, also recently emphasized to JI that Congress will need to thoroughly vet the sale.

“I’ve been clear throughout that we will not allow Israel’s qualitative military edge to be threatened,” Deutch told JI in late September. “We don’t know the background story here. We don’t know what was promised, what the deal was, what is exactly that we ought to be focused on… There’s a lot of information that Congress needs to receive from the administration and we will carefully review [it] when we receive it.”

On Wednesday, Schneider pushed back on arguments from UAE officials that the F-35 is the “logical” upgrade to its existing fleet of F-16s, which the Gulf nation acquired in 2004. He expressed concern over the potential for an arms race in the Middle East, with other countries also seeking access to the jets.

“I always have concerns about inserting advanced military weapons into a complex and sometimes chaotic environment,” he said. “The last thing we should be promoting is an arms race.”

But he also emphasized that, should Congress find that Israel’s interests would remain protected, “I can’t imagine Congress would get in the way” of the sale.

Schneider acknowledged that his bill may struggle to gain traction during the lame duck session after Election Day — Congress is in recess until the election — but he said he is engaging in behind-the-scenes conversations, and hopes his bill will receive a committee hearing. 

Schneider also suggested that, under the right circumstances, lawmakers could generate support in Congress for increasing military aid to Israel beyond what was laid out in the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding.

“It depends on how it’s framed. Language dictates so much of what happens in Congress,” he said. “The 435 members of the House and Senate, all of them come with the biases they start with. And our job is to try to shift them to a place where we can find common ground.”

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