(CNN) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday that the Trump administration had formally notified Congress of its intent to sell approximately $23 billion in advanced weaponry to the United Arab Emirates.
The top US diplomat said that the proposed sales include up to 50 F-35 aircraft valued at $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B drones valued at nearly $3 billion, “and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, valued at $10 billion.”
“This is in recognition of our deepening relationship and the UAE’s need for advanced defense capabilities to deter and defend itself against heightened threats from Iran,” Pompeo said.
The move to authorize the high-dollar sales to the UAE in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency comes less than two months after the Gulf nation joined a US-brokered agreement to normalize relations with Israel.
“The UAE’s historic agreement to normalize relations with Israel under the Abraham Accords offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to positively transform the region’s strategic landscape,” Pompeo said. “The proposed sale will make the UAE even more capable and interoperable with U.S. partners in a manner fully consistent with America’s longstanding commitment to ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.”
Under US policy, the United States is committed to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge” (QME) — the comparative technological, tactical, and other advantages in its weapons that allow Israel to still maintain military superiority in the region. Former US Defense Secretary Mark Esper had met several times with his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz in recent weeks and has reiterated the US commitment to Israel’s QME.
Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a joint statement two weeks ago that they “both agree that since the US is upgrading Israel’s military capability and is maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, Israel will not oppose the sale of these systems to the UAE,” in apparent reference to the potential sales of F-35s.
In a statement about the intended F-35 sales a few weeks ago, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said it required “careful consideration.”
“This technology would significantly change the military balance in the Gulf and affect Israel’s military edge,” Chairman Eliot Engel said at the time. “The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a game-changing stealth platform boasting advanced strike capability and unique sensor technology. The export of this aircraft requires very careful consideration and Congress must analyze all the ramifications. Rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest.”