Democrats could block a landmark U.S. weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates to avoid unnerving Iranian officials, with whom President-elect Joe Biden already said he wants to negotiate in an effort to curb Tehran's nuclear program, according to an Israeli Mideast expert.
Prof. Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S. policy in the Middle East at Bar-Ilan University, believes if the Democrats mange to sweep both houses of Congress once all the votes are counted, they could threaten the planned sale of advanced F-35 jets to the UAE and even halt the advancement of the Abraham Accords, collective agreements among Israel, UAE and Bahrain, propelled by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“The assumption is that [Biden] won’t follow [Trump’s] path of that regional alliance because of his desire to negotiate a deal with Iran,” said Gilboa. “Supplying arms to Gulf states and adding more countries to the regional alliance with Israel will infuriate Iran, so he might put that on hold,” he said.
Democratic lawmakers, who already hold a majority in the House, have expressed their frustration with the rushed process. Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that “rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that “recklessly accelerating the timeline around a reportedly artificial deadline precludes sufficient consideration.”
Since the Trump administration has decided to try to finalize the sale before the UAE’s National Day on December 2, Congress will have less time to discuss whether to authorize or block the transaction.
“If there was any normalcy and continuity between changing administrations, like there historically was, then it wouldn’t matter who won the elections,” he explained. “Congress would never redoes deals, but the American system is so crazy right now, that who knows what’ll happen.”
In addition to the Abraham Accords, signed in September at the White House, the Trump administration has brokered a preliminary peace deal between Israel and Sudan, with more countries in the region allegedly interested in similar agreements.
Some Democrats in recent years have called for a tougher approach toward Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians in order to force Jerusalem to freeze the West Bank settlements and release Palestinian prisoners.
Some have also called for halting the generous U.S. military aid given to Israel and using it as leverage for the Palestinians. Biden, however, opposes this approach and refused to include it in the party’s 2020 platform.
“The more progressive parts of the party believe that all these [Gulf] countries are reactionary and the U.S. should cut ties with them,” said Gilboa, who has served as senior adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
“We’ll see what influence and positions they’ll have. He’ll have to give them something to ensure party unity,” he said.
In Jerusalem, government officials continue to criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the deal. Netanyahu was alleged to have secretly promised Washington in August that he would not oppose the sale of the state-of-the-art planes to the UAE in return for its agreement to normalize ties with Israel.
The alleged promise, said to have been given without receiving assurances that Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region would be maintained and without consulting or notifying military or defense officials.
“The U.S promised to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge, and that’s anchored in American law,” said Daniel Diker, a fellow and senior project director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
“These [F-35s] are different kinds of Mercedes, so to speak. There are ways to ensure Israel has the most advanced jets,” he said, alluding to the common U.S. practice of slightly downgrading or modifying weapon systems sold to Middle Eastern countries.
As to the effect the unprecedented deal might have on the region, Diker says he expects it to wet the appetites of the UAE’s neighbors. “I believe we’ll see similar requests from other Gulf nations. But it will take a few years until that happens, and many things can change between now and then,” he said.
Gilboa agrees: “Anything could happen. The new Congress could delay or cancel agreements that the current Congress approves,” he said. “Sure, that will be very difficult to do, but it’s a very complex system in Washington. Anything could happen.”
Article written by Uri Cohen, republished with permission from The Media Line