- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2020

Questions are mounting from lawmakers on Capitol Hill over the proposed sale of American-made F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates as two top national security Democrats say the Trump administration is “rushing to meet a political deadline.”

U.S. officials began discussing the F-35 sale to the UAE after the Abraham Accords were signed, marking the establishment of formal, diplomatic relations between Israel and the UAE.

The agreement opened the door to enhanced military cooperation with the Gulf nation but ignited concerns from Jerusalem that the UAE would acquire American-made weapons that were previously exclusive to Israel.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released Friday, Sens. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, raised concerns that “the Administration is trying to rush through a precedent-setting sale of the United States’ most advanced fighter aircraft to a country in a volatile region with multiple ongoing conflicts.”

“We fear that the Trump Administration’s recklessly accelerated timeline will preclude sufficient and comprehensive consideration of these issues by the national security professionals in the Departments of State and Defense, as well as by the Congress,” they wrote.

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed opposition to the proposed sale of F-35s to the UAE, Israeli media has since reported that a deal appears to be inevitable and could be pushed through by December.

The lawmakers argued that U.S. national security and the safety of American troops abroad could be “seriously compromised by this sale,” citing the F-35’s advanced capabilities. U.S.-made weapons are typically modified prior to being sold to other countries.

Following the signing of the historic accord between Israel and the UAE, Mr. Esper sought to reassure Israeli officials that Israel’s long-standing qualitative military edge will not be compromised by the sale.

“The defense relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. We intend to keep it that way,” he said last month ahead of a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“I do want to say upfront for everyone that a cornerstone of our defense relationship is preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region,” he added. “The United States is committed to that, and the Department of Defense is committed to that imperative. We will continue to support the longstanding U.S. policy to maintain Israel’s security.”

But the Democratic lawmakers highlighted that while Emirati officials have publicly and privately declared that their decision to normalize relations with Israel was not dependent on getting the F-35, the Trump administration has attempted to push the sale — that requires congressional approval — through “at breakneck speed.”

“Additionally, this sale seems more tied to the American political calendar than to a sober deliberation about regional security,” they added.

The lawmakers presented a list of 16 detailed questions for the secretaries to answer before the sale is sent to Congress for review.

“Assessing the risk to our own military advantage is a critical part of the internal deliberations we must make before agreeing to provide this aircraft,” they said, “including any recipient country’s history of use of U.S. origin weapons and its capacity and willingness to protect critical U.S. technology.”

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