The administration of United States President Joe Biden is about to approve the sale of 50 F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets as well as 18 MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones to the United Arab Emirates. The sale, valued at $23 billion, had been approved by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in early November 2020, during the term of President Donald Trump.
A deal between the United Arab Emirates and the United States was eventually signed hours before Joe Biden was inaugurated as President on January 21, 2021. The contract was suspended shortly after, pending a review to ensure it met the “strategic objectives” of the US.
A spokesperson of the US State Department told Reuters that Congress was notified as the sale was about to be greenlighted by the administration, “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials,” specifically the future use of the weapons.
Since 2015, the UAE is involved in a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that aims at countering Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which Trump’s administration categorized as a terrorist group. After years of being a close ally of the Saudi leadership, the stance of the United States could now change. “The president-elect has made clear that we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and I think we will work on that in very short order,” Blinken announced on January 19, 2021.
Another concern was the eventuality that Israel would lose its technological advantage over its potential adversaries, being currently the only F-35 operator in the Middle East. Since 2008, any proposed U.S. arms sale in the region must include a notification to Congress with a determination that the contract would not affect Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge.”