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September 4, 2020 10:38 am

Helping Israel Swallow the Pill of the F-35 Sale to the UAE

avatar by Benjamin Weil

Opinion

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands in front of an F-35 stealth fighter at the IAF’s Nevatim base, July 9, 2019. Photo: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO.

For more than 6 years, the UAE has been eyeing Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning. The US has been hesitant to sell the fighter jet to the Emiratis, in order to preserve Israel’s air supremacy in the skies of the Middle East. But now that the Israelis and Emiratis have signed a peace agreement, the Emirati request will most likely be granted. Israel no longer has a leg to stand on, since the two countries are no longer considered enemies, and Israel will be pressured by the United State to withdraw its objection in order to let the sale go through.

If this ends up being the case, Israel has the ability to leverage the sale of the F-35 to the UAE. There are a number of areas in which Israel might want to ask for American assistance to compensate for the reduced air supremacy in the region. The Israeli argument will be, if you are increasing our national security risk in one area, help us reduce our national security risk in another — a fair request on Israel’s behalf. I would like to outline a few potential requests that we can expect Israel to raise.

Israel has been interested in American bunker buster bombs. Bunker buster bombs, such as the MOAB (“Mother of All Bombs”), have a delayed fuse explosion, allowing them to penetrate deep bunkers — even those of Iran’s nuclear facilities. Following the normalization of relations with the UAE, Israel has a comfortable launching pad to execute any airstrike against Iranian facilities. If the US were to give Israel these bombs, there would be nothing standing in the way of Israel to act independently against the Iranian nuclear program — a concern shared by many US defense officials and policymakers.

Another long-standing Israeli request is the F-22 Raptor. Unlike the F-35’s single-engine, the F-22 is a twin-engine fighter jet, and is even known to be stealthier than the F-35. Adding the F-22 to the IDF’s toolbox would upgrade its capabilities against anti-aircraft missile systems in Syria and Iran. It would also seem very reasonable for Israel to request this air force advantage in exchange for giving the UAE another stealth aircraft.

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The main hurdle to overcome with this request lays on Capitol Hill. The 1998 Obey Amendment prevents the sale of the F-22 to any foreign government. Congressman Obey worried that foreign countries with the F-22 would be able to reverse engineer the jet’s stealth technology, and maybe even sell the technology to a third country. It is reported that the Department of Defense is neutral on repealing the law. Considering the fact that a number of countries have already purchased the stealth F-35, I don’t believe it would be unrealistic for this Israeli request to be granted.

A third possible request, one that perhaps has the biggest impact on the Middle East, is related to the Saudi nuclear agreement with China. The Saudis claim their nuclear cooperation with China is for civilian use only. However, unlike the US, when the Chinese share nuclear knowledge, they make no requirement for the Saudis to limit its use at all, effectively allowing the Saudis to enrich uranium to a military grade. The Saudis already have a stockpile of Chinese missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads. This wouldn’t be so troublesome for the Israelis had Saudi Crown Prince MBS not told “60 Minutes” that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” Israeli officials have echoed their concerns regarding this nuclear arms race in general, and the Saudi nuclear project in particular. The Israelis would like the US to apply more pressure on Saudi Arabia and be more proactive on this matter before things get out of control or become irreversible.

Lastly, there is Turkey. Turkey has been a bone in the throat for Israel and the Mediterranean countries. Turkey’s maritime disputes with Cyprus and Greece might prevent Israel from building an under-sea pipeline to Europe. The development of Israel’s energy sector has an immense economic and strategic value. Turkey has also been supporting Hamas in Gaza, and been linked to many terrorist activities against Israel. Israel would like to see the US take a stronger stance against Turkey to prevent Turkey from becoming the next Iran.

Israel might consider asking for either of the requests above, or for a combination of them. Whatever the case, Israel should ask for American commitments that will last long after the November elections in the US, and for ones that cannot be reversed.

Benjamin Weil is the Director of the Project for Israel’s National Security at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C. He formerly served as the international adviser to Minister Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israel’s Security Cabinet and Israel’s Minister of Energy.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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