The Trump administration informally notified Congress of its intent to sell F-35 fighter jets to the UAE on Thursday after making a commitment to uphold Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors, known as the Qualitative Military Edge (QME).
A Congressional source told The Times of Israel that the White House plans to sell as many as 50 F-35s to Abu Dhabi worth approximately $10.4 billion.
Rep. Eliot Engel confirmed the informal notification and released a statement expressing his concern over the potential sale. “Israel currently has exclusive access in the region to the F-35, which has guaranteed its military edge over the last several years. As Congress reviews this sale, it must be clear that changes to the status quo will not put Israel’s military advantage at risk,” he said.
Despite Engel’s concerns, the Israelis signed off on the arms sale to the UAE after securing a guarantee from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper last week that the US will provide Israel with new weapons in exchange. Speaking to reporters about the F-35 sale on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had received strong assurances about “the American commitment to preserve Israel’s military qualitative edge.”
Earlier on Thursday, Esper visited Israel and met with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Netanyahu said he thanked Esper for Washington’s “exceptional cooperation” during the visit. “We also know that we all stand before a common threat, and we understand that well,” Netanyahu said in an apparent reference to Iran.
The F-35 sale is still in its early stages. A formal notification to Congress is expected to happen in December. Despite the Israelis giving the green light, Congress is still looking for more assurances from the Trump administration that Israel will uphold its QME.