With the Senate preparing to vote on a series of resolutions that seek to block a massive $23 billion weapons sale to the UAE, Abu Dhabi’s ambassador to the US said the UAE would seek weapons elsewhere if need be.
“We would rather have the best US-equipment or we will reluctantly find it from other sources, even if less capable,” UAE envoy Yousef al-Otaiba said on Thursday. Al-Otaiba made an argument President Trump frequently makes about arms sales to Gulf states. The envoy said the sale would “support tens of thousands of US jobs.”
Al-Otaiba also argued that the deal would help the UAE share the burden of defense in the region. “It is about advancing a more stable and secure Middle East. It enables the UAE to take on more of the regional burden for collective security, freeing US assets for other global challenges — a bipartisan US priority,” he said.
The $23 billion sale includes F-35 fighter jets, Reaper drones, missiles and munitions and is seen as a reward for the UAE’s normalization agreement with Israel. A US arms sale official said on Friday that it is “possible” the F-35 sale can be inked before Trump leaves office.
The Trump administration notified Congress of the F-35 sale on November 10th. Heidi Grant, the head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said the administration is waiting for the congressional notification period to end, known as the “Congress benchmark.”
“We are waiting on the Congress benchmark, then we are going to wait when we offer it to the Emiratis, and it’s up to them as far as timeline. But it’s possible,” Grant said.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NY) said there should be a vote on resolutions aimed to block the sales next week. Among other things, the UAE is under fire for its participation in the US-backed Saudi-led war against the Houthis in Yemen that has killed countless civilians.
Responding to criticism over Yemen, al-Otaiba said the UAE ended its military intervention in Yemen over a year ago. But the UAE still supports a separatist group in the south and is suspected of building a military base on the Yemeni island of Socotra.
The UAE has also been accused of supplying military equipment to al-Qaeda linked militants in Yemen. In 2019, a report from CNN revealed that advanced military vehicles the US sold to the UAE ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Al-Otaiba acknowledged that the UAE transferred “a limited number of US-manufactured protected mobility vehicles” but said these were only given to “local anti-Houthi forces working in the Coalition.” The Houthis are a sworn enemy of al-Qaeda and even partnered with the US for a short time to fight al-Qaeda.
Another concern in Congress over arms sales to the UAE is Israel’s military superiority in the region, known as the Qualitative Military Edge. But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the US the green light to go ahead with the sales after securing a guarantee from Washington that Israel will be compensated with its own new advanced weapons. Al-Otaiba pointed out that Israel gave its blessing for the weapons deal.