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Trump: UAE purchase of ‘totally stealth’ F-35 fighter jets is under review, despite Israeli concerns

F-35 Lightning IIs, assigned to Hill Air Force Bases 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing, fly beside a KC-135R Stratotanker, assigned to the Utah Air National Guard’s 151st Air Refueling Wing during an exercise on January 6, 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Winn)
August 20, 2020

On the heels of a new peace agreement between the U.S., Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), President Donald Trump said during a press briefing Wednesday night that UAE is now interested in buying F-35 fighter jets and a deal is “under review.”

Asked about talks of the UAE purchasing F-35s during a White House press briefing, Trump said “they’ve definitely got the money to pay for it” and “they would like to order quite a few F-35s; it’s the greatest fighter jet in the world, as you know, by far.”

Trump appeared to welcome the idea of more purchases of the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 jets.

“You know, it’s nice because usually what we — a lot of times, we make deals; they don’t have 10 cents, these countries we deal with,” Trump said. “We give it to them like, ‘How about paying this back later?’  But they never pay because they don’t have the money.”

Trump went on to praise the F-35 fighter jets for its “totally stealth” capabilities.

Trump said, “I was asking a pilot, ‘What do you think is better: This one? This one? That one?’ Talking about Russian planes, Chinese planes. He said, ‘Well, the advantage we have is you can’t see it.’ So when we’re fighting, they can’t see us. I say, ‘That sounds like a really big advantage to me.'”

Israel itself has expressed concerns about the idea of selling the F-35 to the UAE. In comments Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to Haaretz on Tuesday, Netanyahu said such sales had not been included in the recent peace agreement between Israel and the UAE.

“The peace agreement with the UAE does not include any clauses on the matter, and the United States clarified to Israel that it will always safeguard Israel’s qualitative edge,” Netanyahu told the Haaretz.

Israel already has some F-35s and Breaking Defense reported in February that Israel has 50 F-35 purchases under contract.

Asked about Israel’s concern with potentially selling F-35s to the UAE, Trump said, “So, yeah, they’d like to buy F-35s; we’ll see what happens. It’s under review, but they made a great — a great advance in peace in the Middle East.”

Congress has raised concerns about other countries using F-35s in the past. Turkey, a NATO ally, received its first F-35 jets in June of 2018, despite concerns about their decision to also purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems. In a May interview, Trump also raised concerns about Turkey’s involvement in F-35 manufacturing and said the U.S. should have greater control over the manufacturing. At the time, Trump said, “We have a good relationship with President Erdogan, you know with me. What happens if we don’t have [a good relationship]? They’re going to say ‘well we’re not going to give you this.’”

Despite the apparent Israeli concerns about selling F-35s to the UAE, Trump went on to tout the Israel-UAE peace deal, known as the Abraham Accords, during his Wednesday comments.

“I see a lot of countries coming in fairly quickly,” Trump said. “And when you have them all in, ultimately, Iran will come in too.  There’ll be peace in the Middle East. That’ll be nice. Iran will be very much neutralized. They never thought this could have happened.”

Earlier in his remarks, Trump acknowledged he expects Saudi Arabia will sign onto the Abraham Accords.