JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States would ensure Israel maintains its regional military edge if U.S. F-35 warplanes are ever sold to the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. ambassador to Israel said in a Jerusalem Post interview on Wednesday.
Ambassador David Friedman’s remarks to the newspaper followed a report on Tuesday in another Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, that Washington planned to sell F-35s to the UAE as part of the Gulf country’s U.S.-brokered deal last week to normalise ties with Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel would oppose any such sales to the UAE, citing a need to preserve Israeli military superiority in the region.
On Israel’s Channel 13 TV, Israeli Education Minister Yoav Galant accused Netanyahu’s political rivals of spreading false allegations that UAE purchase of F-35s, aircraft already in Israel’s arsenal, was part of the normalisation deal.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Friedman as saying that while it was hypothetically possible the UAE would one day receive permission to buy F-35s, their manufacture and procurement “would take many years”.
Friedman said that as the UAE seeks more advanced weaponry “the QME process will kick in as it has before”, according to the newspaper.
He was referring to decades-old understandings under which Washington has refrained from Middle East arms sales that could blunt Israel’s “qualitative military edge”. This has applied to the F-35, so far denied to Arab states.
In the Channel 13 interview, Galant said Israel and the United States had differed in the past over U.S. arms sales in the region.
“They sold the F-15 (fighter jet) to the Saudis years ago. We also didn’t like that at the time,” Galant said.
“But all these years, the United States maintained our qualitative edge. That means, when others had the F-15e, we had the F-15i – a grade above,” he said.
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