WASHINGTON ― U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he personally would have “no problem” selling the advanced F-35 fighter jet to the United Arab Emirates, despite objections from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I would have no problem in selling them the F-35, I would have absolutely no problem,” Trump told Fox News in an interview ahead of a signing ceremony at the White House for agreements normalizing relations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain later on Tuesday.
Trump also said he would be willing to sell other Middle Eastern countries the same weapons systems sold to Israel. He noted the region’s wealth and said it would be good for the United States and American jobs.
“They’re very wealthy countries for the most part, like the UAE, and they would like to buy the fighter jets, and I personally would have no problem with it,” Trump said. “Some people do, they say maybe they go to war.”
Trump affirmed that his strategy is to forge pacts with other Mideastern nations in an effort to push the Palestinians toward negotiating a peace deal with Israel.
Even though Trump favors the sales, there’s no guarantee they would happen. The F-35 sale, a longtime request from Abu Dhabi, is not written into the UAE-Israel deal, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told reporters Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned any such sales would demand congressional scrutiny and said Congress must protect Israel’s military edge, even as he hailed the bilateral agreement.
“In this case, we in Congress have an obligation to review any U.S. arm sales package linked to the deal,” McConnell said in a floor speech Monday. “As we help our Arab partners defend against growing threats, we must continue ensuring that Israel’s qualitative military edge remains unchallenged.”
Likewise, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was among Democrats who questioned whether F-35 sales were part of the deal.
“As we learn more about the full details of both agreements, questions remain – specifically, regarding the commitment that the UAE has received from the Trump Administration to purchase American-made F-35 aircraft,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday. “The U.S. Congress, on a bipartisan basis, will be watching and monitoring to ensure that Israel can maintain its qualitative military edge in the region.”
Netanyahu has said he would oppose the arms sale, despite the historic UAE deal, amid reports that the normalization accord that Trump brokered included language to supply the Arab Gulf nation with advanced U.S. weapons systems.
Maintaining Israel’s regional military supremacy has been a hallmark of Israeli policy for decades, and the country has used its close ties with Washington to ensure that certain sophisticated weapons are not sold to neighboring countries. It’s reported the UAE has long been interested in acquiring American-made F-35 stealth fighter jets and attack drones like those used by Israel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.