Is Joe Biden’s Move To Go Ahead With F-35 Fighter Jet Deal With The UAE Facing New Hurdles?

The Biden administration’s decision to proceed with the $23 billion weapons sales, including F-35 stealth fighters, to the UAE could be facing new hurdles from the US Congress. 

Democratic lawmaker and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks, tweeted that he and many other legislators “remain concerned” about Washington’s weapons deal with the Gulf nation.

Meeks said he still has “many questions about any decision by the Biden Administration to go forward with the Trump Administration’s proposed transfers of F-35s, armed UAVs (drones), munitions and other weapons.”

The $23.37 billion package deal contains products from Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, and Raytheon Technologies Corp. The specific details of the sale mention 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, about 18 MQ-9B Unmanned Aerial Systems, and a collection of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.

The only country in the Middle East that has the American fifth-generation fight jet at present is Israel. It had received its first order of F-35 in 2016 and ordered for a third set this February. While Israel had given its tentative approval to the UAE sale, it is concerned about the potential consequences of this deal.

“It is not a direct threat to us, but it is a trend that will have an influence on us,” Israeli Air Force chief Amikam Norkin had stated before the UAE deal was finalized. It is believed that the Jewish nation given its consent to the UAE sale only after the US assured to preserve Israeli qualitative military edge in the region.

F-35A (Image source: USAF Twitter)

The weapons sale is probably a reward to the UAE for normalizing its relations with Israel through the US-brokered Abraham Accords in September last year. The Trump administration had informed Congress in November that it has approved the sale as a side deal to the Accords. But the deal was finalized right before Trump had to leave office, quite literally an hour before Biden took office on January 20.

This is not the first attempt by the US Congress to stop the sale. In December, a legislative effort to halt it had failed, mainly as Republican Congressmen had supported Trump’s proposal.

The sale is probably opposed by Democrats in Congress not only because of Trump’s hand in its making but also in the context of the Yemen crisis. American-manufactured weaponry has been used in the Yemen conflict.

In 2019, the House of Representatives has voted 247 to 175 to end US involvement in Yemen’s civil war, opposing President Donald Trump’s support of the Arab coalition after Saudi Arabia faced a backlash over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This attempt also failed as Trump vetoed the resolution.

“United States drones could be responsible for UAE attacks that violate international humanitarian law and kill, as well as injure, thousands of Yemeni civilians,” stated Philippe Nassif, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA.

Biden’s decision to go ahead with the sale is seen as a U-turn on his earlier pledge. The new President had halted arms sales to UAE and Saudi Arabia after assuming office and stated that “the war in Yemen must end” in his first major foreign policy speech in February.

According to the procedure, Congress must be notified 30 days before a sale to a non-NATO ally is finalized. After that, it can pass legislation blocking or put conditions on the sale. But such an action would require support in both chambers of Congress to override a presidential veto.

The President also has the last recourse in the “emergency” provision of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) to circumvent Congress in arms sales

The sale will happen earliest by 2025, according to a statement by the State Department spokesperson on Tuesday, giving Congress time to change the deal. “Fortunately, none of these transfers would occur any time soon, so there will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed,” Meeks said.

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