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Selling advanced fighter jets to the UAE is all about Israel

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The landmark peace deal between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain is great news in terms of constructing a regional coalition against Iran. It may also help convince the Palestinians that they are no longer at the center of Arab politics, and bring them to the negotiating table. It perhaps gives the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump a minor talking point that won’t really matter to most Americans.

But the most complex and controversial aspect is that the deal may create the conditions for massive U.S. arms sales — including fifth-generation fighter aircraft — to Arab nations, beginning with the UAE. While Trump said he has “no problem” selling the advanced planes to an Arab nation, it raises legitimate concerns for Israel’s security.

Let’s start with the importance of the F-35 Lightning, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. It is the dominant combat aircraft in the world today, bar none. (Disclosure: I have consulted in the past for Northrop Grumman, one of the subcontractors.) It has a highly stealthy profile, advanced human-machine interfaces and powerful command-and-control features that integrate it into broader combat networks.

Israel is one of the key international partners in the program; it received its first F-35s in 2016 and plans to purchase 50 or more.

The problem with providing the F-35 and associated combat systems to Arab states, at least with all their technological capabilities, is that it might erode Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” or QME — an assurance from the U.S. that it will not sell its most advanced weapons to Israel’s potential military opponents.

There is precedent going back to the Camp David accords in the 1970s of giving advanced military technology to Arab states — Israel’s then-enemies Jordan and Egypt. Opponents of any new sale in Congress and Israel, however, correctly point to U.S. law on the matter, which guarantees that Washington will not allow the QME to be weakened.

The Emiratis, whose........

© The Japan Times

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