The possible US sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the UAE has leaders in Congress worried about Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME). The QME is mandated by US law and means that Washington will make sure Israel has military superiority over its neighbors.
Leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID), and ranking member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) expressed their concerns to the State Department at a hearing on Thursday over the arms sale. In response, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said the State Department would “consult the Israelis” about any possible sales.
“With all due respect, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if Israel’s the only country in the Middle East that has F-35s, that selling it to someone else no longer produces that qualitative military edge in the air,” Menendez said.
Members of the House have also expressed their concern over Abu Dhabi acquiring F-35s. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) spoke at a conference on Thursday and voiced his concern over Israel’s QME. When asked about the possible arms sale, Engel said, “I’m concerned about it because once you lose that qualitative military edge, it’s a slippery slope … we just cannot do anything that could potentially cause Israel to lose the qualitative military edge.”
Engel, along with other members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation supporting the Israel-UAE normalization agreement that also reaffirmed the QME.
For their part, the Israelis have submitted a wishlist of $8 billion worth of advanced military equipment in the face of the possible sale. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz was in Washington on Tuesday to discuss the F-35s with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who promised to maintain Israel’s QME.