- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The United Arab Emirates is making a bid to become a defense powerhouse in the Middle East less than two months after striking a historic deal to normalize relations with Israel, bulking up its military as it seeks a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The country formally announced its bid for a two-year spot on the 15-member council Tuesday but it will have win support from at least two-thirds of the panel during a June 2021 vote.

“We want to bring the sort of new thinking from the region,” UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told a virtual event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

The UAE has been in the global spotlight since joining Bahrain in signing the normalization “Abraham Accords” with Israel — the first Arab states to do so in decades. UAE officials are pressing the Trump administration to be allowed to buy sophisticated F-35 fighter jets as the U.S. hopes other Gulf state will follow the UAE’s lead in reaching out to Israel.

Mr. Gargash said Tuesday his country is hoping to put “politics and diplomacy ahead of kinetic conflict” if awarded a spot on the council and is seeking “to build on established governance and rules that are important for a small country like ours in the international system.”

“On the other hand we want to bring the sort of optimism from a region that people don’t expect optimism from,” Mr. Gargash continued, pointing to the newly-minted Abraham Accords. Under the agreement, the three countries agreed to exchange embassies and ambassadors and will cooperate on a broad range of trade, education and health care issues. Israel also agreed to suspend its planned annexation of land claimed by the Palestinians in the West Bank for an undisclosed period.

UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, speaking separately at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, claimed that the agreement “was able to freeze the annexation decision and opened broad prospects to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region.”

UAE officials are hoping the agreement also opened the door to new military cooperation with the U.S. The UAE has long been a key ally to Saudi Arabia, a cornerstone of the Trump administration’s regional policy as a counterweight to Iran.

U.S. officials have hinted that the UAE may now be able to obtain American weapons, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter, that were previously barred, although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress have both expressed concern that any sale not cut into Israel’s regional military superiority. Despite pushback from Israel, Israeli media reported over the weekend that the weapons deal is likely inevitable within the next few weeks.

But the UAE is looking far higher in its expansion of its national security capabilities.

Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on Tuesday announced plans to send an uncrewed spacecraft to the Moon in the next four years.

“It will be an Emirati-made lunar rover that will land on the surface of the moon in 2024 in areas that have not been explored previously by human missions,” he tweeted.

If the mission is successful, the UAE would be the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon. The U.S., Russia and China have successfully accomplished the feat, while India, Israel and Japan have launched unsuccessful attempts.

Mr. Mohammed said the rover’s data will be shared with global research centers and will be completely manufactured and developed by engineers in the UAE.

“The UAE will be the fourth country in the world to send a mission to explore the moon,” he said. “We will continue our contribution to the global pursuit of knowledge for the benefit of humanity.”

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