A US State Department official told reporters on Friday that a contract for the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE is expected to be signed before President Trump leaves office.
Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said, “Everything is on that trajectory” for a contract to be inked before January 20th.
The F-35 deal is just one part of a $23.37 billion weapons package the Trump administration approved for the UAE as part of Abu Dhabi’s decision to normalize relations with Israel. The package includes 50 F-35 jets worth $10.4 billion, 18 MQ-9B Reaper drones worth $2.97 billion, and $10 billion worth of munitions.
The deal is opposed by some members of Congress, and legislation was introduced in the Senate to block the sales, but the resolutions were voted down. Opposition to UAE arms sales stems from Abu Dhabi’s previous support for the US-backed Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that has regularly targeted civilian infrastructure since the war started in 2015. Weapons sold to the UAE have also ended up it the hands of al-Qaeda-linked militants in Yemen.
Another reason some in Congress opposed the weapons sales was the fear that it would threaten Israel’s military superiority in the region, known as the Qualitative Military Edge. Israel initially opposed the F-35 sale but gave the US the green light once Washington pledged to supply Israel with new advanced weapons of its own.
On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that he wants Israel to buy a new squadron of F-35 fighter jets, a deal he hopes can be secured before Trump leaves office. “Without doubt, we need to expand the F-35 array. Right now we have two squadrons. I reckon we will expand that. That is what I requested of the Americans,” he told Ynet TV.