U.S. plans to sell 50 F-35 fighter jets to the UAE after accord with Israel

The State Department on Thursday informally notified Congress that it plans to sell F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, according to the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The deal would include up to 50 of the Lockheed Martin-made jets at a cost of $10.4 billion, a congressional aide said. If the sale is completed, the UAE would become only the second country in the Middle East to fly the advanced fighter jets after Israel.

Context: The sale of F-35s to the UAE was made possible by an accord signed in September at the White House that normalized relations between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv.

Israeli officials initially objected to UAE buying the planes due to a long-standing requirement that Tel Aviv have a military advantage over other Middle Eastern nations. But last week, Israel agreed to allow the U.S. to sell “certain weapons” to the UAE after Pentagon officials promised to sell Israel more U.S.-made military equipment to maintain its advantage.

Israeli initially agreed to purchase 50 F-35s, but wants to buy more. Bloomberg first reported the news of the proposed sale to the UAE.

What’s next: The proposed deal must still be approved by Congress. House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement he is concerned that the sale could degrade Israel’s military edge in the region, allow advanced technology to get into the hands of adversaries operating in the Middle East, such as Russia and China, and also lead to an arms race in the region.

"As we consider these risks, we must ensure that American national security and foreign policy priorities are at the forefront of our considerations,” Engel said. “In the coming days, I invite members of Congress who share my concerns to join me in introducing legislation to ensure that the sale of these types of weapons adhere to our most important national security goals.”

A State Department official declined to comment, saying the agency does not confirm proposed sales until they are formally notified to Congress.