Trump weighs F-35 jet sales to UAE over Israeli objections
BERLIN, Aug 20, (AP): Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Wednesday cautiously welcomed an agreement between its close ally the United Arab Emirates and Israel to establish full ties and exchange embassies. Prince Faisal bin Farhan said the deal, which also halted unilateral annexation by Israel of West Bank territory sought by the Palestinians, “could be viewed as positive.” But he refrained from outright backing the move and stressed Saudi Arabia is open to establishing similar relations on condition that a peace agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians.
His remarks during a news conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas were the first public comment by Saudi Arabia on Thursday’s surprise announcement by US President Donald Trump that his administration helped broker the UAE-Israel agreement. Bahrain, Oman and Egypt issued official statements welcoming the agreement.
The kingdom did not issue similar statements and did not respond to requests for comment until Wednesday’s news conference in Berlin. The UAE framed its agreement as a successful measure that halted Israeli plans to annex West Bank territory. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has said the suspension is only temporary. The Palestinians have issued scathing statements saying the UAE undermined Arab consensus and describing the move as a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Palestinian cause.”
Saudi Arabia, like other Arab Gulf states, has built quiet ties with Israel over the years, in part because of shared concerns over Iran and its policies in the region. Prince Faisal reiterated during the press conference the kingdom’s longstated public stance of support for the Arab Peace Initiative – sponsored by Saudi Arabia in 2002 – which promises Israel full ties with Arab states if a peace settlement is reached with the Palestinians. Conditions for that, however, must be based on internationally recognized parameters, he said.
“Once that is achieved, all things are possible,” Prince Faisal said. He reiterated the kingdom’s longheld public stance that a future Palestinian state should include east Jerusalem as its capital. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said Wednesday the US is considering selling advanced American F-35 warplanes to the United Arab Emirates over the objections of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump told reporters at a White House news conference that the Emiratis had expressed interest in buying “quite a few” of the stealth fighter jets. He said such a sale was “under review” given the new dynamic between Israel and the UAE since the two nations agreed to normalize relations last week. Perhaps just as important, Trump said, is that the UAE can afford to buy the planes.
“They have the money and they would like to order quite a few F-35s,” Trump said. “It’s the greatest fighter jet in the world, as you know, by stealth, totally stealth.” “They’d like to buy F-35s, we’ll see what happens,” Trump added. “It’s under review, but they made a great advance in peace in the Middle East.” Netanyahu said Tuesday he would oppose the sale despite the historic UAE deal after an Israeli newspaper reported that the normalization accord that Trump brokered included language to supply the Arab Gulf nation with advanced US weapons systems.
The Yediot Ahronot daily, citing American and Emirati sources, reported that Israeli acquiescence to the sales had clinched the deal for the Emiratis. Further, it reported that Netanyahu had made the deal behind the back of the Israeli defense establishment and kept Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, both former military chiefs, in the dark about it.
In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister has opposed the sale of F-35s and other advanced weapons to any country in the Middle East, including Arab countries that have peace agreements with Israel. Maintaining Israel’s regional military supremacy has been a hallmark of Israeli policy for decades, and Israel has used its close ties with Washington to ensure that certain sophisticated weapons are not sold to neighboring countries. The UAE has long been reported to be interested in acquiring USmade F-35 stealth fighter jets and attack drones like those the Israelis have.