The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said that the Trump administration has informally notified Congress of its intent to move forward with a major arms sale to the United Arab Emirates involving advanced F-35 jets.
Two Democratic congressional aides said that the arms package involved 50 F-35 jets valued at some $10 billion.
The news came less than two months after the signing of the Abraham Accord, an agreement establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE, which has opened up a wealth of opportunities in trade, technology, and security cooperation.
The UAE has for years had its eye on the F-35, the most advanced fighter jet platform on the market. But the main hurdle was Israel, which is legally guaranteed a qualitative military edge (QME) by the U.S. that ensures a technological advantage over its neighbors and exclusive access to some of America’s best arms.
“This technology would significantly change the military balance in the Gulf and affect Israel’s military edge,” the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel said in a statement.
“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a game-changing stealth platform boasting advanced strike capability and unique sensor technology. The export of this aircraft requires very careful consideration and Congress must analyze all the ramifications. Rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest,” he added.
A State Department spokesperson told CNN that, “as a matter of policy, the Department does not publicly confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress.”
The sale of the advanced fighter jets to the UAE was reportedly something that was put on the fast track by the Trump administration as it worked to establish diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel.
The sources said the Trump administration aims to send formal notifications for the deal in the coming days. Once formally notified, Congress can choose to pass legislation to block the sale.
Typically the informal notification process for complex deals like the F-35 sale is 40 days, but the Trump administration is cutting it to just a few days to meet the goal of a UAE National Day signing ceremony, the sources said.
The UAE, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel.
Because of the qualitative military edge restriction, in the past, the F-35 has been denied to Arab states, while Israel has about 24 of the jets. Israel is currently slated to purchase 50 of the fighters.