JERUSALEM — Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz headed to Washington on Monday for talks with his U.S. counterpart on maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East following its historic normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
Since the agreement was announced last month, the UAE has made no secret about its desire to acquire F-35 warplanes and other advanced U.S.-made weaponry. Israel is the only U.S. ally in the Middle East to possess the stealth fighter jet.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially said he opposed the sale of the planes to any other nation in the region, even an Arab country at peace with Israel. But since then, he has softened his line, signaling he will trust the U.S. to honor its commitment to ensure Israel’s military edge in the region, even if the UAE obtains F-35s.
Gantz’s office said he would meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other top Pentagon officials. It said the trip would include “meetings to discuss maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge, international policy vis-a-vis Iran and strategy for stopping its expansion and entrenchment in the Middle East, as well as discussion on defense cooperation and procurement.”
Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israeli military, has had cool relations with Netanyahu since the two rivals formed their coalition government in May. Gantz was not informed about the deal with the UAE until after it was reached.
President Donald Trump has said he is fine with selling the aircraft to the UAE and that the request is under review.