The U.S. State Department notified Congress it approved the sale of 50 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets to the United Arab Emirates in a deal that could be worth $10 billion. The United States and the UAE aim to have a letter of agreement for the F-35 jets in time for UAE National Day celebrated on Dec. 2, Reuters reported in September.
The news came less than two months after the signing of the Abraham Accord, an agreement establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, which has opened up a wealth of opportunities in trade, technology and security cooperation.
The UAE has for years had its eye on the F-35, the most advanced fighter jet platform on the market. But the main hurdle was Israel, which is legally guaranteed a qualitative military edge (QME) by the U.S. that ensures a technological advantage over its neighbors and exclusive access to some of America’s best arms.
So it was major news when Israel’s defense minister last week said the country would not oppose Washington selling “certain weapons systems” to the Emiratis — widely interpreted as a green light for the F-35, which Israel already owns.
The sources said the Trump administration aims to send formal notifications for the deal in the coming days. Once formally notified, Congress can choose to pass legislation to block the sale.
Typically the informal notification process for complex deals like the F-35 sale is 40 days, but the Trump administration is cutting it to just a few days to meet the goal of a UAE National Day signing ceremony, the sources said.
“Rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest,” Engel warned in his statement.
The UAE, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel.
Because of the qualitative military edge restriction, in the past, the F-35 has been denied to Arab states, while Israel has about 24 of the jets. Israel is currently slated to purchase 50 of the fighters.