A $23-billion deal for 50 F-35 fighters and MQ-9B Reaper drones was signed before Donald Trump left office in January 2021; the same was to be delivered by 2026-27. The UAE would become the first Arab country to hold stealth weapons, bolstering its regional outlook and power manyfold.
On 27 January 2021, State Department officials said the Biden administration had temporarily frozen for review the F-35 package to the UAE. A State Department spokesperson said the administration is "temporarily pausing the implementation" of a number of defense sales "to allow incoming leadership an opportunity to review." "This is a routine administrative action typical to most any transition, and demonstrates the administration's commitment to transparency and good governance," the spokesperson said. The move is also aimed at "ensuring US arms sales meet our strategic objectives of building stronger, interoperable and more capable security partners."
Washington’s disapproval of the UAE partnering with Huawei is not new, according to a report by Bloomberg. Washington is giving the UAE four years, before the delivery of military weapons, to reverse the Huawei integration with the country’s telecommunication network. The Huawei 5G rollout is a critical component of Dubai’s World Expo scheduled for October 2021.
Maintaining the military edge of Israel is one of the conditions of the Biden administration for the sale of the F-35 to the UAE. Apart from this, the US placed two other conditions — the UAE would ensure that any country, especially China, does not gain access to the F-35 or the drone technology and that the country will not use these weapons in Yemen or Libya.
A group of senators 18 November 2020 announced their rejection of the US sale of F-35 fighter jets and other weapons systems to the UAE under the proposed deal worth more than $23 billion. Senators Bob Menendez, Rand Paul and Chris Murphy said they were introducing four separate Joint Resolutions of Disapproval rejected the Trump administration’s push to supply the UAE with a “precedent-setting aircraft and myriad of other weapons systems.”
The deal, which was announced earlier in the month, includes Reaper drones, F-35 fighter jets and air-to-air missiles to the UAE. The three senators - two Democrats and one Republican - accused the Trump administration of trying to “rush this sale of incredibly sophisticated weaponry, while also claiming that the administration “circumvented the informal congressional review process.” According to the three senators, the State Department and Defense Department did not respond to Congressional inquires over how such a deal would impact “specific national security risks.” But Menendez voiced his concerns that this could “impact the national security interests” of Israel.
Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) played a "critical" role in convincing the Gulf state to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, despite repeated denials from Israel. In an interview published with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Pompeo described the sale as one of a series of actions that allowed the normalisation agreement between Israel and the UAE to move forward and eventually be signed. The importance of the sale lies in the fact that it reassured Abu Dhabi that Washington considered it a trusted security partner, Pompeo explained, adding that it passed on a message that the United States, the UAE and Israel all shared the same security concept.
On 20 July 2021 Thomas Joseph Barrack, a longtime friend of Donald Trump, was arrested along with two accomplices and charged with unlawful efforts to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the United States at the direction of senior UAE officials by influencing the foreign policy positions of the campaign of a candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, subsequently, the foreign policy positions of the U.S. government in the incoming administration, as well as seeking to influence public opinion in favor of UAE interests. The government says that after Trump won the 2016 election, Barrack in December 2016 asked the UAE for a "wish list" of its short-term and longer-range goals it wanted from the incoming Trump administration.
Between April and November 2016, Barrack, who had known Trump since the 1980s, served as an informal advisor to the campaign of the candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Between November 2016 and January 2017, Barrack served as Chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Beginning in January 2017, Barrack informally advised senior U.S. government officials on issues related to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Barrack also sought appointment to a senior role in the U.S. government, including the role of Special Envoy to the Middle East. Barrack served as the Executive Chairman of a global investment management firm headquartered in Los Angeles.
"The defendants repeatedly capitalized on Barrack's friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected President, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko of the Justice Department's National Security Division. "The conduct alleged in the indictment is nothing short of a betrayal of those officials in the United States, including the former President. Through this indictment, we are putting everyone - regardless of their wealth or perceived political power - on notice that the Department of Justice will enforce the prohibition of this sort of undisclosed foreign influence."
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) leadership had been quietly discussing the prospect of acquiring the F-35 fighter-jet from the United States. After examining various options to replace or augment its Dassault Mirage 2000s and Lockheed F-16s, including buying Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35, by 2017 Abu Dhabi appeared to be focused on the F-35. UAE must agree to protect the jet’s sensitive data if it wants to buy the fifth-generation plane, Aviation Week reported. Defense News reported 12 November 2017 that the UAE was seeking 24 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters.
The Trump administration on 29 September 2020 informally notified Congress of its plan to sell advanced fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The deal would include up to 50 of the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 jets at the cost of 10.4 billion US dollars. If the sale is completed, the UAE will become only the second country in the region to fly these stealth fighter jets after Israel. Reports said that the F-35 deal was a part of the US-brokered agreement to normalize ties between the UAE and Israel, which was signed in September 2020.
On October 29, 2020, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, made a following statement regarding the Trump Administration's plan to sell advanced military technology to the United Arab Emirates, which was presented to the Committee today in an informal notification: "This technology would significantly change the military balance in the Gulf and affect Israel's military edge. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a game-changing stealth platform boasting advanced strike capability and unique sensor technology. The export of this aircraft requires very careful consideration and Congress must analyze all of the ramifications. Rushing these sales is not in anyone's interest.
"My consideration of this sale will include several factors. First, we must maintain Israel's qualitative military edge, as provided in U.S. law, and ensure Israel's military superiority in the region, as Israel remains our most crucial ally there. Israel currently has exclusive access in the region to the F-35, which has guaranteed its military edge over the last several years. As Congress reviews this sale, it must be clear that changes to the status quo will not put Israel's military advantage at risk. This technology also must be safeguarded from our greatest global adversaries. With Russia and China active in the region, the American people will require unimpeachable assurances that our most advanced military capabilities will be protected."
Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel lost his New York primary. Jamaal Bowman bested Representative Engel, a 16-term incumbent, in a race that pitted the Democratic Party’s progressive wing against the establishment.
The JSF was raised by UAE officials and military officers in several fora in 2012. Existing orders could keep Abu Dhabi from acquiring JSF until at least 2020. In November 2011 Lockheed Martin gave the UAE a first taste of the F-35 marketing blitz as state officials start planning for acquiring a next generation fighter in several years. The F-35 has not been cleared for export in the Middle East beyond Turkey and Israel. The lack of export approval restrains contractors from providing details about the programme with customers. As of 2012 the UAE Air Force (UAEAF) was said to be giving priority to buy the F-16V fighter jet at the expense of the Rafale and Eurofighter, and in 2013 the F-16 was selected.
Lockheed Martin partners with the United Arab Emirates on a variety of programs and capabilities. Whether its air and missile defense or systems integration or tactical aircraft, Lockheed Martin offers the most advanced capabilities to meet the UAE’s most challenging global security needs. In 2011, Lockheed Martin joined the Advanced Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Centre (AMMROC) joint venture to support the maintenance of Emirati military aircraft. In addition, in October 2011 Lockheed Martin hosted an Industry Collaboration Forum to look for new areas to collaborate with local Emirati businesses.
Estimates of the cumulative value of defense procurements by the UAE in recent decades reach well over 20 billion dollars (although the UAE does not publish its overall defense and security expenditures). Funded essentially by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, that money has been spent on sophisticated weapons and defense systems from many countries, with no obvious master plan for an integrated defense network. UAE defense experts, including contractors and military advisors, say that only the best will do for this demanding customer, and that even the best technology must compete through a protracted and vigorous negotiation process. A UAE penchant for wanting only top-of-the-line capabilities often includes reaching into the future for systems still under development. "Spiraling" requirements can drag out negotiations almost endlessly, according to veterans of the military sales process.
A governing axiom driving the desire for more and better technology has its roots in the shallow talent pool available for the military to draw upon. The UAE population is slightly over 800,000; attracting qualified personnel to man the national defenses is a perennial challenge. Replacing human capital with equipment is thus seen as inherently positive. Although more technology leads to greater maintenance needs, many of those needs are met by foreign nationals, who represent a problem solved by budget resources, not Emirati human resources. Third Country Nationals, whether functioning as contractors or commissioned into the uniformed services, still present a Third Party Transfer barrier for high technology U.S. defense articles.
The UAE has emerged as a regional powerhouse, using its financial clout and diplomatic activism to expand its influence from North Africa through the Levant to the Indian Sub-Continent, and indeed globally in financial circles. The bilateral relationship has been carefully nurtured from a strong mil-mil base emerging out of the first Gulf war into a much broader relationship in which the full range of US Agencies work closely with Emirati counterparts.
If Iran were to acquire Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, the F-35 stealth technology would give operators an important advantage in battle. The UAE leadership sees Iran as its primary external threat, and one that is existential in nature. Like the rest of the international community, the UAE finds the idea of an Iran with nuclear weapons unacceptable and thinks this eventuality would lead to nuclear arms race in the Middle East. At least as worrying to Emiratis is Iran's aspirations for regional hegemony, which it realizes through terrorist proxies (Hizballah, HAMAS, possibly underground organizations in the Arab Gulf countries). Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is skeptical that Iran can be convinced to end its nuclear weapons program, and is not convinced that the international community will adopt tough sanctions. In other words, he sees the logic of war dominating the region, and this thinking explains his near obsessive efforts to build up his armed forces and the Critical National Infrastructure Authority (CNIA).
The UAE purchased nine (9) Patriot batteries, and expected to move forward on the purchase of THAAD, the first country outside the US to purchase the system. The major FMS/DCS systems are: Hawk, F-16, Weapons (JDAM, Hellfire, Maverick, LGB, cluster, HARM, Harpoon), HIMARS, AH-64, UH-60 M/L, AOC operating system, Patriot, C-130, CH-47, Shared Early Warning (SEW), CENTRIXS, NVGs, land vehicles, and small arms. A number of other systems had been requested and as of 2009 were in various stages of FMS and DCS development: 3 x THAAD, 24 x RQ8 Firescout, 4(+2) x C-17 Globemaster, 12 x C-130J, satellites/imagery, 16 x CH-47F (4 via DCS), XM-982 Excalibur, XM-1156 PGK, 5000 X GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, E-2D Hawkeye, Boeing Wedgetail, AOC system upgrade, Link-16 integration on all appropriate platforms/ground facilities, Stinger/Avenger /VMSLP, MRAP, critical national infrastructure protection, and Head of State missile ASE.
The 2009 crashes of 2 x UAE F-16 Block 60s were cause for concern. The first mishap occurred in January and the second occurred in February. Both aircraft were lost and the UAE pilots were killed. The initial impression of both mishaps is that they were caused by pilot error in basic skills.
With approximately 1,460,000 residents in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (the majority in the city of Abu Dhabi itself), one-tenth of the planet's oil, and estimates of nearly $1 trillion invested abroad, few can fathom its vast wealth. And what does a small country do with such phenomenal resources?
No sooner had the news broken in August 2020 of a “historic” peace accord between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, then came reports of the Arab country’s purchase of the American F-35 stealth combat jet. The UAE foreign minister Anwar Gargash told reporters that the oil-rich Gulf state had now earned the right to buy the F-35 because it was at peace with Israel. “We have legitimate requests… We ought to get them... the whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel no longer exists,” said Gargash. Plans for the purchase were also confirmed by US President Donald Trump who said the UAE was seeking to “buy a few F-35s”.
In August, the office of Netanyahu issued a statement saying that the Israeli-UAE peace deal did not include Tel Aviv’s consent to US arms deliveries to the UAE. The prime minister was said to oppose deliveries of F-35 fighters and other modern weapons to Arab nations, including those which signed peace deals with Israel.
The New York Times newspaper reported on 03 September 2020 that the public statement of Netanyahu’s office was not true. According to the sources, Netanyahu gave up his complaints against the possible arms deal after talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conducted in Jerusalem.
Donald Trump stated that he would have no issue with selling modern US-made weapons to the Gulf countries, instead of selling them exclusively to Israel in the region. His statement comes in the wake of Israel striking two peace deals with Gulf countries, the UAE and Bahrain, in a matter of weeks, purportedly clearing the way for Abu Dhabi's long-cherished desire to buy F-35 fighters, EA-18G Growler jets, and Reaper drones. "They're very wealthy countries for the most part. I personally would have no problem with it. Some people do, they say [...] maybe they go to war", Trump said 15 September 2020. Trump said secifically he was ready to sell the latest fifth-generation stealth fighter jet, the F-35, noting that such an opportunity would mean "tremendous jobs at home". Speaking about the Arab World, the president added on a side note that he had "had a shot" at "taking out" Syrian President Bashar Assad, but chose not to do so due to opposition to the move from then Defence Secretary James Mattis.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi later commented on selling F-35 fighter jets to the Gulf states, specifically to the UAE, noting that the Congress would want to evaluate the consequences of a sale. She stressed that the Congress would want to ensure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge [QME] in the Middle East after such a sale. "As we learn more about the full details of both agreements, questions remain […] The US Congress, on a bipartisan basis, will be watching and monitoring to ensure that Israel can maintain its qualitative military edge in the region", Pelosi said.
The Biden administration has every intention of “moving forward” with the US-UAE deal that would see the Gulf nation purchase F-35 fighter jets, a senior US official said 15 November 2021. Initially struck under the Trump administration, the UAE had requested to buy the US fighter jet and other weapons, including armed drones, as part of the Abraham Accords deal, which saw the UAE normalize ties with Israel. The deal is reportedly worth $23 billion and is currently being reviewed to ensure “that we have unmistakably clear, mutual understandings with respect to Emirati obligations … before, during and after delivery,” the US official told reporters in a phone briefing. But with delivery away and the Biden administration’s decision to review all foreign arms sales, skepticism over the deal surfaced in recent months.
“The Biden-Harris administration intends to move forward with those proposed defense sales,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Security Mira Resnick said. She was speaking after she participated in the Dubai Air Show. “I anticipate a continued robust and sustained dialogue with the UAE to ensure that any defense transfers meet our mutual national security strategic objectives to really build a stronger, interoperable, more capable security partnership while protecting US technology,” Resnick said.
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