Defense, Middle East, New in Lobbying

UAE enrolls its lobbyists in F-35 fight

The United Arab Emirates has enrolled its fleet of lobbyists to try to assuage bipartisan concerns from Capitol Hill and the incoming Joe Biden administration over its pending acquisition of the F-35 fighter jet.

Longtime UAE lobby shop Akin Gump and its subcontractor American Defense International are disseminating a 13-page report to US policymakers and key influencers making the case that the fifth-generation stealth jet will provide “frontline defense” for the UAE, the United States and their partners in the region. The report quotes from both US and Israeli officials to make the case that the UAE has proved itself to be worthy of being the first Arab country to field the F-35.

“The sale of the F-35 to the UAE is much more than selling military hardware to a partner,” the report states. “It is about advancing a more stable and secure Middle East. It enables the UAE to take on more of the burden for collective security from the United States.”

The report goes on to point out that the UAE has deployed its current fleet of F-16s in support of numerous US-led missions since they were first approved for sale under then-President Bill Clinton in 2000, notably in Afghanistan, Syria and the Gulf. And it says the F-35 sales will support jobs and the US industrial base.

The push comes as the Donald Trump last week notified Congress of a proposed $23 billion arms sale to the UAE, including 50 F-35s and related equipment for $10.4 billion in addition to a $3 billion sale of Reaper drones and $10 billion in bombs and munitions. The UAE says it needs the advanced technology to defend itself against Iranian ballistic missiles, rockets and armed drones that also threaten Israel.

Key lawmakers have introduced legislation to slam the breaks on the F-35 sale, with some Democrats denouncing it as a “quid pro quo” in exchange for the UAE’s diplomatic recognition of Israel that the Trump administration is now trying to ram through Congress.

Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) has introduced such a bill in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And a bipartisan bill in the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee demands reassurances that the sale would not threaten Israel’s military edge or make US military systems vulnerable to Russia and China.

“The Trump Administration has made it clear that they’ll put lethal weaponry in just about anyone’s hands without regard to potential loss of life so long as the check clears,” Engel said last month in a statement. “So it’s up to Congress to consider the ramifications of allowing new partners to purchase the F-35 and other advanced systems.”

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The incoming Biden administration has also made clear its concerns. In a press call with Jewish media late last month, Biden’s top foreign policy adviser Antony Blinken said the new administration would look at the proposed sale “very, very carefully” to make sure they do not threaten Israel’s military edge.

Others have pointed to the UAE’s military actions in Libya and Yemen, which have come under international criticism, as reasons to be wary about selling the Gulf country more weapons.

“The UAE’s active role in a number of regional conflicts raises the prospect that the arms and munitions announced as part of the package could directly contribute to ongoing violence and a troubling history of international humanitarian law violations,” the dovish Center for International Policy said in a Nov. 13 issue brief.