Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz doubled down on his accusation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew about the sale of the F-35 to the United Arab Emirates during negotiations but kept it hidden from the defense establishment.
“As Defense Minister, I state that the defense establishment did not know and was not privy to the negotiations for the supply of advanced weapons systems to the United Arab Emirates by the Prime Minister,” Gantz said.
He stated that following the agreement signed with the UAE, he instructed the defense establishment to carry out security discussions with Washington to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) “with my personal involvement with the US administration.”
Though he stated that he was “proud” of the “prompt and thorough action” that led to the agreement he signed with his American counterpart US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, he stressed that “had the defense establishment had the information – this would have enabled proper and responsible management of the process.
“The Defense Minister considers achieving peace and regional stability a strategic value and therefore led an independent action” with the Trump administration to ensure both the normalization deal with the UAE and Israel’s security, the statement by Gantz’s office on Friday said.
In a press conference on Saturday evening, Netanyahu denied claims released by Gantz’s office that he kept the sale of the stealth fighter jet to Abu Dhabi but kept it hidden from the defense establishment.
The PM said that there was “no basis” to the statement that there had been secret negotiations and that he didn’t agree to any such thing. The Americans, he said, only asked him after the deal was signed and that Israel did not agree to pull its objections until Gantz returned from Washington on Friday after securing Israel’s QME.
On Friday, in a joint announcement by the offices of Netanyahu and Gantz, Israel announced that it would not oppose the sale of F-35s to the United Arab Emirates.
The announcement came after Gantz returned from Washington, where he met with his US counterpart Mark Esper and signed a deal that ensures Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the region.
The agreement that was signed between Jerusalem and Washington, the statement said, and will enable long-term procurement plans that will provide Israel with advanced weapons systems, “significantly upgrade its military capabilities, fortify Israel’s security and regional military superiority and preserve its qualitative military edge in the coming decades.”
During Gantz’s whirlwind visit, he was informed that Washington plans to notify Congress in the near future of its intention to supply the UAE with “certain weapons systems,” likely the advanced F-35 stealth fighter jet.
Gantz flew to Washington on Wednesday night for a “security meeting” with his US counterpart, as well as discussions with other Pentagon officials. It was his second flight to the US Capitol in a month following the normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates, which has made clear that it wants to procure the F-35 stealth fighter jet.
The possible sale has caused controversy in Israel. Although Washington has been selling Abu Dhabi millions in military deals, they have been bound to preserve Israel’s QME in the Middle East before selling any advanced weaponry to regional states.
During his visit, the two signed a joint declaration confirming Washington’s strategic commitment to maintaining Israel’s QME in the Middle East. Speaking to reporters, a senior defense source said the document signed was a general commitment and that discussions were ongoing over what Washington will provide Jerusalem to offset the sale of the F-35 to the UAE.
“This is not the end of the story,” said the source, adding that the specifics of “what we are getting and what we aren’t getting and what they’ll sell us later” would be determined in future discussions.
The source confirmed, however, that the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that Israel has wanted to procure for several years is once again being considered.
The multi-role combat aircraft uses tiltrotor technology, combining the vertical performance of helicopters (such as take off and landings) with the speed, altitude and range of fixed-wing planes, making them the ideal aircraft for sensitive missions as they don’t need runways.
“It was important for me once again to reaffirm the special relationship between our two countries, the commitment we have made to Israel’s security based on our shared values, our shared history, and I want to thank you for your personal efforts in the past few weeks,” Esper said during the visit.
Thanking Esper for his commitment to Israeli security, Gantz mentioned the various discussions which “reassured” Washington’s bi-partisan commitment to Israel’s QME.
“Now that we are entering an era of positive normalization processes in the Middle East, which actually can face an aggressive Iran across the region, this ability of continued cooperation is so very important, and I am looking forward to hosting you in Israel,” he said.
The source also told reporters that the UAE is not the only country that will likely acquire advanced weapons systems from the US following additional normalization agreements between them and Israel.
“There are countries in the region with lots of money and who want to upgrade their militaries,” he said, adding that “the US has an interest to sell them weapons.”