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Defence Now: UAE’s F35 sale likely to deepen existing conflicts in the region

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The Biden administration told Congress on April 13 that it plans to proceed with a $23 billion sale of advanced weaponry to the United Arab Emirates originally approved by the Trump team – including the F-35 advanced joint fighter aircraft. Biden has yet to provide a clear rationale for continuing the sale, but following the previous administration’s logic, advocates believe it will help curb Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East. The reality, however, is that these sales will further entangle the United States and amplify existing conflicts in the troubled region.

The first problem with the sale is that it will deepen the American commitment to Israel’s defense while simultaneously making that commitment more expensive. At present, Israel is the only country in the region with access to the high-tech F-35, which provides it a significant advantage in any potential conflict. Given this, one might imagine that Israel would oppose UAE’s purchase of F-35s.

On the contrary, however, though Israel has little love for the Emirates, the Israeli government has not opposed the sale because the United States agreed to “significantly upgrade Israel’s military capabilities” in return. Ensuring that Israel has enough firepower not to worry about F-35s in the neighborhood will be expensive indeed. Worse, however, is that the American carte blanche will give Israel the confidence to behave aggressively towards its neighbors, as its recent attack on Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz indicates.

Selling the F-35 to the UAE also raises the risks of a regional arms race, as well as increased tensions between the United States and Russia. Russia is discussing selling its answer to the F-35, the S-400 anti-aircraft system, to Iran. The S-400 is designed to overcome the F-35’s stealth technology, and its potential deployment has produced concern in Israel because it would make future Israeli airstrikes on Iranian targets much more dangerous.