In some of its last actions before being replaced by the Joe Biden administration, the Trump Administration announced that it had approved an upwards of $23 billion weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates.
According to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the sale includes various advanced weapon systems, including F-35 fighter jets, and armed drones.
The formal notification to the US Congress followed a US-brokered agreement in September in which the UAE agreed to normalize relations with Israel, becoming the first of three Arab states to make such a move in recent months.
“This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The $23.37bn package includes up to 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, up to 18 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, the State Department said.
The US Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees have repeatedly criticized UAE’s role in civilian deaths in Yemen’s civil war. The Committee reviews major weapons sales before the State Department sends its formal notification to the legislative branch.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, criticized the arms sale to the UAE, saying it would constrain the options of President-elect Joe Biden who has signaled he will return the US to the Iran nuclear agreement.
This is a massive arms deal that is completely inappropriate for a lame duck Administration. It's a transparent attempt to narrow options in the Middle East for President-elect Biden when he takes office. https://t.co/w6TFUodFBv
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) November 10, 2020
Any deal the United States makes to sell weapons in the Middle East must satisfy decades of agreement with Israel that the US-made equipment must not impair Israel’s “qualitative military edge”, guaranteeing US weapons furnished to Israel are “superior in capability” to those sold to its neighbors.
Regardless, the incoming Democratic administration is unlikely to complete this sale, if they actually follow through on all of their claims and vows.
Israel initially strongly opposed the prospective sale of F-35 warplanes, valued at $10.4 billion. However, it received some sort of guarantee that it would have the military superiority in the region from the US, and rescinded its opposition.
Biden advisors have expressed concern but boosting UAE defensive capabilities comes amid calls for D.C. to reduce its footprint & as other regional players augment their own military capabilities, including most notably (& from a UAE threat perception perspective) Iran & Turkey
— Ranj Alaaldin (@RanjAlaaldin) November 10, 2020
The weapon sale is not finalized, and there is no guarantee for it to move forward, but this is a last-ditch bid to carry out some deals in support of its allies, and it is clearly a part of some agreement with the UAE in return for normalization with Israel, as it is unknown (and unlikely) that the Biden administration would be as supportive of Israel and liberal with weapon sales.
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