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Fri 21 Aug 2020 10:01 AM

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UAE minister defends request for F-35 fighter jets

Country has 'legitimate' case to order fighter planes, says Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash

UAE minister defends request for F-35 fighter jets

UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.

The United Arab Emirates has “legitimate requests” for Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jet, a top official said Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump said the purchase may be approved.

“We ought to get them,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said during an event with the Washington-based Atlantic Council. He rejected the idea that the weapon would be a reward for the UAE’s historic understanding this month to make peace with Israel.

The F-35 “has always been a target” to meet the UAE’s defence needs and has been requested for six years, Gargash said. He said the UAE also is seeking to upgrade its Lockheed F-16 aircraft.

Trump said on Wednesday that an F-35 sale is “under review” after the UAE made “a great advance in peace of the Middle East.” He said “they’ve definitely got the money to pay for it.”

The sale of the US military’s costliest and most advanced aircraft would be controversial because US policy has long promised that Israel would maintain a “qualitative military advantage” in equipment over potential Arab adversaries. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he opposes the sale of F-35s to any country in the Middle East, including within the framework of a peace agreement.

The UAE’s foreign ministry said in a statement that with the US-crafted accord with Israel “and the added assurances it provides, we expect closer security cooperation among all three countries including on air defense and systems.”

Ties between Israel and Gulf Arab states have warmed in recent years, in large part due to a shared distrust of the nuclear and regional ambitions of Iran, which denounced the Israel-UAE accord.

“This deal is not targeted against Iran,” Gargash said. “It’s not because of Iran. Iran perhaps contributed to the general climate in the Arab world that made a deal with Israel more and more possible because of its own regional policies.”

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