House Democrats introduced a bill on Friday to restrict arms sales to countries in the Middle East. The legislation comes after the Trump administration informally notified Congress of its intent to sell the UAE 50 F-35 fighter jets, worth approximately $10.4 billion.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, introduced the legislation along with 10 other lawmakers. “It’s up to Congress to consider the ramifications of allowing new partners to purchase the F-35 and other advanced systems,” Engel said in a statement announcing the bill.
The bill is the latest in a round of legislation introduced in Congress to protect Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors, known as the Qualitative Military Edge (QME). A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last week.
“We need to know that such weapons will be used properly and in a way aligned with our security interests, which include protecting Israel’s qualitative military edge and ensuring adversaries can’t get their hands on American technology,” Engel said.
Engel’s bill outlines conditions necessary to sell F-35s and other advanced equipment to countries in the Middle East that are not Israel. One condition is that the recipient country has to have signed an agreement to normalize relations with Israel like the UAE did in September.
The bill would also require the weapons to be modified to ensure Israel “is able to identify, locate, and continually track the weapons and that the recipient country will not alter such modifications.” Other requirements include ensuring the weapons are not stolen or do not end up in the hands of non-state actors in the region.
Despite the concerns in Congress, 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. Discussing the potential F-35 sale with reporters on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he received strong assurances about “the American commitment to preserve Israel’s military qualitative edge.”
Congress is already mandated by US law to uphold Israel’s QME. Since rumors of the F-35 sale to Abu Dhabi began to surface, US lawmakers have introduced a few bills concerning Israel’s QME. Earlier in October, a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced a bill that would essentially give the State of Israel veto powers over US arms sales to the Middle East.