The Israel Defense Forces has set up a team tasked with assembling a “wish list” of technologies and systems to help it maintain its regional defensive superiority.
The list is to be submitted to the United States government, which is expected to approve the sale of F35 fighter jets and other advanced military technology to the United Arab Emirates under the Israel-UAE normalization deal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to broach the subject in an upcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump.
Israeli officials are worried about the US selling advanced military technology to the Emiratis, particularly the F35 stealth fighter, which thus far has been used in the Middle East only by Israel. The concern is not that the Emiratis would employ the aircraft, as well as other military technology they are slated to receive, against Israel, but rather that the sale of the F35 to the UAE will spark a Middle East arms race that would lessen Israel’s qualitative strategic advantage.
Another concern, which is not being publicly voiced, is that a different government could take power in the Emirates or other Gulf states.
“Right now, we are benefitting from the winds of peace, but we live in an unstable region in which the winds can change quickly,” said a senior defense official involved in these developments. “Therefore, we always take care to be at least one step ahead of all the other countries in the region, and preferably, more than that.”
However, Israel understands that Washington is determined to sell the F35 to the Emiratis, and possibly to Saudi Arabia at some point in the future. Given that, recent weeks have seen a round of meetings and consultations that resulted in a decision not to “sit by” but to take action to ensure that Israel’s retains its strategic advantage.
The defense official said the matter had already come up in meetings between high-ranking Israeli and American officials. A number of American officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have made statements affirming the US commitment to Israel retaining its strategic advantage in the Middle East.
The leader of the IDF team is head of the Force Design Directorate, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, and includes senior commanders from a few IDF branches, with special emphasis on the Israeli Air Force. Bar himself is an IAF man and considered a leading candidate for the top IAF position when Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin’s term is over.
Subscribe to Israel Hayom’s daily newsletter and never miss our top stories!
So what does Israel plan to ask for? An idea was floated to request F22 aircraft, but tossed because of the planes’ high cost and expensive maintenance. The team is now looking into asking the Americans to approve the supply of advanced weapons systems to Israel, and move up the delivery date on which various other defense requests from Israel were due to be delivered, including fuel aircraft, V-22 Osprey helicopters, and another squadron of fighter planes, most likely F15s.
Until the list is finalized, it will not be approved by the political leadership. However, Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochaci have approved the work of the team itself and the general direction it is taking.
The official who spoke to Israel Hayom said that during Netanyahu’s meetings with Trump, he would bring up the subject and that some of the subjects could be moved forward at a later date.
Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats have called on Trump to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) in any weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates.
The letter from nine congressional Democrats makes the legal and foreign-policy arguments for maintaining Israel’s QME and reminds the administration that Congress must approve any pending arms sales that could have a detrimental effect on Israel’s security.
“While we celebrate the recent agreement brokered between Israel and the UAE, and resolutely want it to succeed, we have to also ensure that Israel maintains its QME,” the Democrats said.
“We must, therefore, carefully scrutinize any proposed sale of advanced military technology like the F-35 to any nation in the region and make certain that we will continue to fulfill our legal and strategic QME commitment to Israel’s basic security needs,” they wrote.
“This is especially troubling given the years of opposition to such a sale by the Israeli national security community, including strenuous opposition voiced recently by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.”
The letter was signed by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Ted Lieu (R-Calif.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.), Max Rose (D-NY), Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).
Part of this article was reprinted with permission from JNS.org.