U.S. to sell 50 F-35 jets to the UAE after Greek deal, Turkey exclusion

(Updated with House Foreign Affairs chairman’s statement from eighth paragraph)

The U.S. State Department informally notified Congress of plans to sell up to 50 F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, news website Politico reported, citing the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The UAE would become only the second country in the Middle East to fly the advanced fighter jets after Israel, should the $10.4-billion sale be approved by Congress and completed, Politico said.

The State Department’s notification came days after the Greek media reported that Greece will buy six F-35s in 2022, along with six French-made Rafale fighter jets.

The United States is poised to sell the planes to NATO member Greece and the UAE after excluding Turkey from a programme to purchase them last year. Washington suspended the agreement with Ankara after it took delivery of Russian S-400 air defence missiles. Turkish pilots had received training in the fighter jets in the United States ahead of their expected arrival.

The planned F-35 deals follow months of diplomatic and military tensions between Turkey, also a NATO member, and other regional powers, including Greece, the European Union and Egypt. The UAE is set to receive the weapons after signing a normalisation deal with Israel in August.

Greece and Turkey are engaged in a political and military standoff over territorial claims to the eastern Mediterranean. Hopes for de-escalation were dimmed in October when Turkey announced naval exercises and sent its research ship, the Oruç Reis, back into contested waters to continue a search for hydrocarbons, a move that had sparked the dispute on Aug. 10.

Relations between Turkey and the UAE have reached an all-time low after Ankara began publicly backing the Muslim Brotherhood, a pan-Islamist organisation that the UAE and its Arab allies characterise as terrorists and hostile to their interests. The countries also support opposing factions in Libya’s civil war with weapons and military know-how.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel said in a written statement he was concerned that the sale would significantly change the military balance in the Gulf, degrade Israel’s military edge in the Middle East, allow advanced technology to get into the hands of adversaries operating in the region, such as Russia and China, and also lead to an arms race in the region.

“Will the price for normalisation with Israel be an infusion of advanced weapons? Is this wise?” he said.