Analysis - F-35 fighter deal: How UAE being played by US?

Analysis - F-35 fighter deal: How UAE being played by US?

Reports said the Arab state on Tuesday suspended talks on a $23 billion deal to purchase American-made F-35 planes, armed drones and other equipment, in a rare dispute between Washington and a key US ally in the Persian Gulf amid concerns about increasing American restrictions on use of warplanes.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): While the UAE was expected to become a popular actor for the US in the Persian Gulf after normalization with the Israeli regime, the American failure to fulfill its promise of sale of F-35 fighter jets has recently begun to anger Abu Dhabi. Reports said the Arab state on Tuesday suspended talks on a $23 billion deal to purchase American-made F-35 planes, armed drones and other equipment, in a rare dispute between Washington and a key US ally in the Persian Gulf amid concerns about increasing American restrictions on use of warplanes. 

President Joe Biden administration has recently dictated a series of technical requirements and special restrictions for the use of these fighters by the UAE, which has been recognized by Abu Dhabi a violation of its sovereignty and against its interests. Although Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in response to a statement from the UAE suspending talks on the purchase, said that the US government remained committed and open to the deal, the issue, contrary to initial expectations, appears to have created great challenges in relations between the two countries. 

No F-35s for the UAE 

On November 10 last year, the US government officially announced the sale of 50 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets and MQ attack drones to the UAE worth more than $26 billion. The announcement came after the Arab monarchy signed an agreement to normalize relations with the Israel regime under the supervision of Presidential Donald Trump administration. According to the accord reached between Abu Dhabi and Washington, by 2027, the US has to deliver 50 of this stealth, fifth-generation aircraft to the Emirates. 

But after Biden took office, his new government suspended arms sales and more, and has already set various conditions for the country to use F-35 fighter jets. This situation practically means that the UAE's hand is left empty when it comes to the so-called advantages of the thaw agreement with Tel Aviv. 

The Emiratis claim that in the agreement, they stipulated that Washington sell advanced F-35 fighter jets to Abu Dhabi in exchange for this agreement. Now, Washington's not fulfilling its promise or making it conditional means the Arab state is being played. The policy of one US president making a commitment and the next president canceling or suspending it has become an threadbare policy and known to all. In normalization case, the White House seems to have played such a political deception game with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. 

The US seeking to punish Abu Dhabi and protect Israeli interests 

The reason behind the American restrictions on the use of the F-35s has to do with the growing Chinese influence in the UAE. Actually, the Biden administration is concerned that the Emirati use of China's Huawei-provided fifth-generation networks (5G) can bring risk of sensitive data disclosure to China. The Americans are pressuring the Emiratis in the warplanes case to decrease the UAE exposure to the Chinese communication technologies. 

At a minimum, the US concern is about the risks of Chinese technology transfer to the UAE. At a maximum, the Americans are deeply concerned about Chinese influence surge and boost of cooperation with Abu Dhabi. 

In recent months, China pushed forward with a bid to set up a military base on the Emirates soil. Biden started a counter-motion, trying to persuade the UAE not to give a green light. The Americans forced the Emiratis to halt secret construction of a Chinese military base in Abu Dhabi vicinity. 

In addition, despite the normalization deal between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, the role of Israeli pressure on US arms sales in the region is undeniable, with Israeli officials initially declaring their opposition to the sale, saying that the delivery of the F-35s to UAE could overshadow the Israeli air superiority in the region. 

UAE's alternatives 

Now that bin Zayed is more than ever sure that the US has been treacherous in fulfilling the aircraft deal, he is considering other choices in addition to suspension of the negotiations. 

The UAE can think other countries for aircrafts purchases. A fortnight ago, the country signed a deal with France during French President Emmanuel Macron visit to the Arab monarchy for procurement of 18 Dassault Rafale multirole fighter jets for about €16 billion ($17.98). The move was a serious warning to the US, many analysts agree. 

In addition to arms purchases from France, which is essentially an Atlantic region country and a partner of the US, the UAE government could also put on agenda arms purchases from Russia and China, two US rivals, and partnership boost with them. On November 9, Voktor Kladov, the head of International Cooperation and Regional Policy of the Russian Rostec company, said in 2021 Dubai Airshow that the the Russian aircraft maker was in talks for partnership in SU-57 fighter jet manufacturing. 

The comments drew warnings from the US. At the time, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mira Resnick who was also present in airshow told the American website Al-Monitor that "our partners know the risks of CAATSA sanctions and that we are very serious about implementing CAATSA, whether it is in this region or around the world." CAATSA is an acronym for Countering America's Adversaries Though Sanctions Act, which was approved in 2017, banning dealing, especially arms, with Russia, Iran, and North Korea.



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