F-35 מטוס קרב
An F-35 fighter jet on the runway
Photo: AP
Israeli Air Force F-35 flies in an aerial demonstration

U.S., UAE said aiming for December deal on fighter jet sale

Sources close to negotiations say sides want letter of agreement on F-35s in place in time for Emirati National Day on December 2, and to ensure the deal does not impair Israel's qualitative military edge in region

Reuters |
Published: 09.22.20 , 14:59
The United States and the United Arab Emirates hope to have an initial agreement on the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the Gulf state in place by December, as the Trump administration studies how to structure a deal without running afoul of Israel.
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  • Sources close to the negotiations said the goal is to have a letter of agreement in place in time for UAE National Day celebrated on Dec. 2.
    Israeli Air Force F-35 flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli air force pilotsIsraeli Air Force F-35 flies during an aerial demonstration at a graduation ceremony for Israeli air force pilots
    Israeli Air Force F-35 flies in an aerial demonstration
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Any deal must satisfy decades of agreement with Israel that states any U.S. weapons sold to the region must not impair Israel's "qualitative military edge," guaranteeing U.S. weapons furnished to Israel are "superior in capability" to those sold to its neighbors.
    With that in mind Washington is studying ways to make the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 more visible to Israeli radar systems, two sources said. Reuters could not determine if this would be done by changing the jet or providing Israel with better radar, among other possibilities.
    Defense Minister Benny Gantz was due to meet his U.S. counterpart Mark Esper in Washington on Tuesday.
    The UAE embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The White House declined to comment.
    בני גנץ בני גנץ
    Defense Minister Benny Gantz
    (Photo: Avi Mualem)
    A Pentagon spokeswoman said, "as a matter of policy, the United States does not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they are formally notified to Congress."
    Once a letter of agreement is signed, a fine may be levied against any party that terminates the deal. Several political and regulatory hurdles must be cleared before the sale may be completed and Capitol Hill aides cautioned a deal may not be possible this year.
    Ellen Lord, the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, told reporters in August that in general, the United States aims to complete a letter of agreement for new F-35 sales in about six months.
    Because of the qualitative military edge restriction, which is enshrined in American law, the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 has been denied to Arab states while Israel has about 24 jets.
    Mark EsperMark Esper
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper
    The United Arab Emirates, one of Washington's closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy jets and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal made when they agreed to normalize relations with Israel.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied that the deal with the UAE announced last month included the sale of the advanced aircraft, but that was later debunked by American officials and U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he would have "no problem" selling the Gulf states previously denied military hardware.
    L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif al-Zayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
    L-R: Bahrain FM Abdullatif Alzayani, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump and Emirati FM Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan at the signing of the Abraham Accords at the White House
    (Photo: AFP)
    Sources familiar with the negotiations said a working idea was for Israeli air defenses to be able to detect the UAE F-35s with technology that effectively defeats the stealth capabilities of the jets.
    F-35 fighter jets sold to the United Arab Emirates could also be built in a way that ensures the same planes owned by Israel outperform any others sold in the region, defense experts say.
    Washington already demands that any F-35 sold to foreign governments cannot match the performance of U.S. jets, said both a congressional staffer and a source familiar with past sales.
    F-35 מטוס קרבF-35 מטוס קרב
    An F-35 fighter jet on the runway
    (Photo: AP)
    The F-35's technical sophistication is tied to its mission systems and processing power and "it's the computing power that allows you to sell a higher tech jet to Israel than to the UAE," said Doug Birkey, executive director of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Washington.
    "When foreign pilots are in training in the U.S. they type a code into a user interface as they board the jet, the code will pull a different jet for each pilot based on legal permissions," Birkey said.
    Either way, actual delivery of new jets is years away. Poland, the most recent F-35 customer, purchased 32 of the jets in January, but will not receive its first delivery until 2024.

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