US gears up to sell F-35 to UAE, recommits to Israel’s ‘military edge’

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - After their meeting Gantz tweeted that the two sides had signed “a joint declaration confirming the United States’ strategic commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East for years to come.”

Friday 23/10/2020

An August 2020 file picture shows an F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew preparing for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. (AP)

WASHINGTON –The United States recommitted itself to maintaining Israel’s military dominance in the Middle East Thursday during a visit to the Pentagon by Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the two sides said.

With Washington gearing up to sell advanced F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates — Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have the aircraft — Gantz received assurances from US Defence Secretary Mark Esper that Israel’s “qualitative military edge” would not suffer.

“I want to state, again, how committed we are to Israel’s qualitative military edge when it comes to defence sales, and our commitment to Israel’s security, which has been longstanding and it’s guaranteed and ironclad,” Esper said as the two met.

In his second meeting in Washington with Esper in a month, Gantz said the two had been in discussions for weeks to “assure the bipartisan commitment for Israel’s security.”

After their meeting Gantz tweeted that the two sides had signed “a joint declaration confirming the United States’ strategic commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East for years to come.”

Israel has made its concerns clear following President Donald ’s confirmation last month that the United States could sell F-35s to the UAE.

The country has long opposed the sale of F-35s to any US allies in the region including Jordan and Egypt, both of which already recognise Israel.

Since the 1960s the US has approached the issue on the principle that Israel should maintain a “qualitative military edge” (QME), and the concept has been formalised in legislation from Congress.

US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper (L) and Defence Minister and Alternating Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Gantz speak with media representatives after signing a bilateral security agreement at the Pentagon, October 22.  (DPA) 

But the UAE, which sits along the strategic Strait of Hormuz across from Iran, which is seen by Israel and the United States as a major threat, has sought the advanced fighters for several years.

Trump, who polls suggest could be defeated by Democrat Joe Biden in the November 3 election, reportedly wants to rush through the F-35 sale by January, when he would have to step down if not re-elected.

Gantz also suggested that Esper could be visiting the Jewish state soon, telling his US counterpart that he is “looking forward to host you in Israel.”

While the Pentagon did not provide any information on the document signed by the two defence chiefs, according to Israeli media, it pledged the US to supporting Israel’s QME for the next four years.

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