Opposition in Senate to progress in sale of F-35 to UAE

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and another senator submitted legislation aimed at authorizing congressional oversight of the sale, and actually trying to stop it. A senator said Congress has an obligation to "ensure that weapons sales to foreign governments don’t undermine Israel’s military edge"

The ceremony for the signing of the Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain in Washington in September 2020. Photo:  REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Two days after U.S. President Joe Biden authorized Congress to proceed with the huge sale of F-35 fighters, worth more than $23 billion, to the United Arab Emirates, opponents responded. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, together with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, submitted on Friday legislation aimed at authorizing congressional oversight of the deal, and actually trying to try to block it.   

It is a resubmission of legislation that the two submitted last October to ensure that no deal proceeds to delivery of aircraft "unless and until the President can make detailed certifications to Congress that the United States’ aircraft technology and Israel’s security are fully protected," according to statement from the office of Menendez, one of the leading opponents of the deal.  

"I remain concerned with the implications of a sale of our most advanced fighter jet given numerous outstanding, unanswered questions about the implications of this sale for U.S. national security, our technology interests, and implications for regional stability including the legal parameters of Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge," Menendez said.

"(I)f the Administration has decided to proceed with this Trump-era deal, then we must enact protections to ensure the incredibly sensitive technology of these aircraft is not compromised by powers hostile to the United States, including making sure the UAE pulls-back from its burgeoning relationship with China and other U.S. competitors," the senator said. 

"Congress has an obligation to uphold U.S. policy and ensure that weapons sales to foreign governments don’t undermine Israel’s military edge," added Senator Feinstein, one of the biggest supporters of Israel. "Our bill achieves that goal by restricting sales of the F-35 — our most sophisticated aircraft — until the administration certifies to Congress that the sale complies with that objective."

The bill is not specifically directed at the UAE, and it relates to any situation in which an arms deal is signed with a country that is not a member of NATO, such as Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. It calls for a precise review of the risks involved in such a deal including those to various security mechanisms.  

In addition, the bill calls for a yearly review to be carried out by the president for 10 years following the delivery of the planes to any country in the Middle East except Israel in order to determine whether Israel's qualitative military edge is endangered by the strengthening of other forces in the region.  

The F-35 deal with the Emirates, which was authorized by the Trump administration in November following the Abraham Accords, includes 50 F-35 Lightning II fighters, up to 18 Reaper MQ-9B drones, and air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. After Biden took office as president in January, he froze the deal in order to review it, a step that the administration carried out regarding all arms deals authorized during Trump's term.