Top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez said today that the proposed US sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) undermines Israelâ€™s military superiority in the Middle East. His comments came just two days after Israelâ€™s top defense official visited Washington to discuss the matter.
Menendez, of New Jersey, questioned US Secretary of Political Affairs David Hale extensively on the reported sale at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
“It doesnâ€™t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if Israelâ€™s the only country in the Middle East that has F-35s, then selling it to someone else no longer produces that qualitativeÂ military edge,â€ said Menendez.
TheÂ Donald Trump administration is reportedly working on the sale ofÂ F-35 aircraft to the UAE.
The UAE and Israel signed an agreement to normalize relations this month. However, Israeli officials are concerned that the Gulf country obtaining the sophisticated military planes would undermine Israelâ€™s military superiority in the Middle East.
The United StatesÂ has a legal commitment to preserve the Jewish stateâ€™s qualitative military edge in the region. US officials are working to reassure Israel that theyÂ remainÂ committed to the military edge.
Congress has the authority to review US arms sales to foreign countries. When asked about an update on the planned sale, Hale said that the United States is still early on in the process.
â€œWe are not at a point now where we have something to bring to the Senate, but we understand fully our obligations to notify Congress,â€ said Hale during the hearing.
Hale did not precisely confirm that the administration is considering selling F-35s to the Emirates.
â€œWeâ€™re having consultations about their security needs and what would it take in order to improve their security,â€ he said when asked by Menendez about F-35s specifically.
Hale said he is not aware of a formal request by the UAE for the planesÂ but he would keep the Senate updated on the issue.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East with F-35s.
â€œI donâ€™t see how anybody could reasonably assert that a sale of F35 aircraft will in fact not reduce Israelâ€™s qualitative military edge based on the simple fact that Israel is the only country throughout the Middle East that has that aircraft,â€ said the senator.
When asked about how the government will deal with US law pertaining to Israelâ€™s qualitative military edge, Hale said the State Department and Pentagon have a process in place to ensure this. He also spoke of the importance of what US allies in the Gulf need in terms of military hardware.
â€œWe have a large group of people at the Pentagon and the State Department who evaluate based on technical criteria and assessments of security and what it is that the Israelis have and what it is that the partners need,â€ said Hale, adding they have a â€œconsultative processâ€ with Israel on the subject.
Israelâ€™s Minister of Defense Benny Gantz visited Washington on Tuesday. His talks with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper focused on US sanctions on Iran and Israelâ€™s military advantage in light of the possible F-35 sale. An Israeli defense official told Al-MonitorÂ the F-35 proposal serves to ease concerns Gulf states have about their ability to defend themselves against Iran.