Menendez, Feinstein push back against F-35 sale to UAE

The veteran Democratic senators proposed legislation to guarantee Israel’s security as a condition for sale

Mark C. Olsen

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez speaks at a ceremony at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Feb. 4, 2019.

Congressional Democrats are continuing to push back against the Trump administration’s plans to sell F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates. 

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) — the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee — and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill yesterday adding additional congressional oversight of sales of F-35 fighter jets and other advanced military equipment.

The bill was primarily motivated by the Trump administration’s “headlong” efforts to “rush the sale of the United States’ most advanced fighter aircraft to the United Arab Emirates,” according to a press release from Menendez’s office.

“Ensuring that the United States and its crucial partner in the Middle East, Israel, maintain their critical qualitative military advantages over all potential adversaries is enshrined in law and must be one of the highest priorities of any President and Congress,” Menendez said in the release. “This rush to close an F-35 deal by President Trump before the end of his term could well undermine that objective.”

The bill requires the White House to provide certification to Congress — before F-35s are transferred to a country in the Middle East — that the fighter jets will not compromise Israel’s qualitative military edge and that the recipient country has provided “specific, reliable and verifiable assurances” that it will not use the F-35s in a way that would compromise Israel’s security.

It also mandates that the F-35 recipients provide sufficient security to prevent foreign espionage efforts on the F-35s and guarantee they will not not utilize the F-35s to violate human rights. The legislation maintains that recipients must also verify that they have not provided weapons to groups fighting the U.S., conducted surveillance on U.S. citizens or received equipment from foreign powers that could compromise the F-35s.

The bill institutes a series of subsequent checks beginning 180 days after the arrival of the first F-35, and then annually for the next 10 years, to ensure that recipients are continuing to comply with the aforementioned conditions.

“Congress has an obligation to make sure that the most sophisticated U.S. weaponry be limited to our use and that of our most trusted allies,” Feinstein said in a statement. “That’s why this legislation places significant limits on this or any future administration’s ability to sell the F-35 aircraft to the Middle East, where it could threaten our interests and Israel’s military edge in the region.”

The legislation also includes similar — albeit less extensive — requirements to guarantee U.S. security in the case of all F-35 transfers, with exemptions for the U.S.’s closest military allies, like Israel.

“This legislation would require that a fair, comprehensive, and soberly deliberative consideration of any [F-35] sale takes place, shorn of extraneous political or other interests,” Menendez said.

The legislation follows another similar resolution addressing Israeli’s qualitative military advantage introduced by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) earlier this month, although Schneider’s resolution does not specifically mention F-35s.

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