In light of the U.S. State Department’s informal notification to Congress of the White House’s intent to sell 50 Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35s to the United Arab Emirates, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.,) chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has introduced the Middle East Advanced Technology Protection Act, H.R. 8707, to restrict U.S. sales of sophisticated arms technology to countries in the Middle East outside of Israel.
Tony Blinken, the national security adviser for Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, has expressed concerns about selling the F-35 to countries in the Middle East other than Israel, which became the first nation to request F-35s under the U.S. foreign military sales (FMS) program in 2010 and to receive them in 2016.
On Oct. 29, Engel said that the Trump administration had informally notified Congress of the proposed F-35 sale, which, given the stealth and other advanced capabilities of the fifth generation fighter, “would significantly change the military balance in the [Persian] Gulf and affect Israel’s military edge.”
“This [F-35] technology also must be safeguarded from our greatest global adversaries,” per Engel. “With Russia and China active in the region, the American people will require unimpeachable assurances that our most advanced military capabilities will be protected.”
Lawmakers have raised concerns about UAE’s human rights record and its growing partnership with Russia and arms buys from that country, including the Pantsir S-1 missile defense system.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that an F-35 sale to the UAE could spark an arms race in the Middle East.
“I have serious reservations about transferring our most complex stealth technology—which the Chinese have for years sought to steal—to the UAE, which has increasingly close cooperation with both the Chinese and Russian militaries,” Murphy said in an Oct. 31 statement. “We know the Emiratis have violated past end-use agreements and allowed the weapons we’ve sold them to end up in the wrong hands, including violent terrorist-affiliated militias. The UAE is an important U.S. partner, but their refusal to comply with international law, from their violation of the Libya arms embargo to their participation in human rights violations in Yemen, makes them a deeply imperfect partner. The Trump administration has a lot of serious questions to answer about why this sale furthers U.S. interests, and until they do Congress should not approve the administration’s proposed sale of F-35s to the Emiratis.”
Under the informal notification process begun in 1976 and altered in 2012, the State Department notifies the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee of proposed arms sales to give lawmakers between 20 and 40 days to ask questions and raise objections. Sometimes, lawmakers raise significant objections, which result in holds placed on such weapons, frequently over human rights violations by countries that are to receive such weapons. The Trump administration has been trying to end the informal notification process to speed up foreign arms sales. Once the informal process has resolved, the State Department makes a formal notification to Congress of the proposed arms sales.
Last year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invoked the Section 36 emergency provisions of the Arms Control Export Act (AECA) to push through $8.1 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE (Defense Daily, Aug. 18). While the House and Senate rejected the sales, Trump vetoed the bodies’ disapproval resolutions, and the Senate failed to override Trump’s veto by the required 2/3 vote.
The UAE recently became the third country in the Middle East after Egypt and Jordan to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. Bahrain became the fourth such country last month.
Engel’s bill, H.R. 8707, would require Middle Eastern countries that receive sophisticated arms from the U.S. to have signed a peace or normalization agreement with Israel. The measure would also require that any arms sales would not negate the military advantage of the U.S. and Israel, that the weapons have been modified so that Israel can “continually” track them, that the recipient country will not violate international humanitarian law or human rights, that the recipient country will consult with the U.S. “relating to the mission, flight plan, and purpose of use of the weapons,” and that the recipient country “will protect the weapons from theft or diversion of sensitive defense technology to any other country or non-state actor and will not transfer those weapons without authorization,” per Engel’s office.
Samuel Ramani, a nonresident fellow at the Gulf International Forum, wrote in the Sept. 30 edition of Foreign Policy that the U.S. precedent of suspending F-35 sales to Turkey after the latter bought Russia’s S-400 missile defense system “should be applied to the UAE.”
“Unless the UAE distances itself from Russia, there is an unacceptably high risk of inadvertent transfers of U.S. technology to Russia via Abu Dhabi and Russian missile defense systems becoming interoperable with F-35s,” Ramani wrote. “Russia’s security partnership with the UAE is deeper than its relationship with Turkey, as it consists of arms sales, logistical cooperation, and active collaboration on weapons system development, so the risks associated with selling F-35s to Turkey are amplified in the UAE’s case.”