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Ahead of F-35 sale to UAE, Pentagon pledges to keep Israel strong

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Oct 23, 2020 - 09:24 AM

WASHINGTON — The United States recommitted itself to maintaining Israel’s military dominance in the Middle East Thursday during a visit to the Pentagon by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the two sides said.

With Washington gearing up to sell advanced F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates — Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have the aircraft — Gantz received assurances from US Defense Secretary Mark Esper that Israel’s “qualitative military edge” would not suffer.

“I want to state, again, how committed we are to Israel’s qualitative military edge when it comes to defense sales, and our commitment to Israel’s security, which has been longstanding and it’s guaranteed and ironclad,” Esper said as the two met.

In his second meeting in Washington with Esper in a month, Gantz said the two had been in discussions for weeks to “assure the bipartisan commitment for Israel’s security.”

After their meeting Gantz tweeted that the two sides had signed “a joint declaration confirming the United States’ strategic commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East for years to come.”

Israel has made its concerns clear following President Donald Trump’s confirmation last month that the United States could sell F-35s to the UAE.

The country has long opposed the sale of F-35s to any US allies in the region including Jordan and Egypt, both of which already recognize Israel.

Since the 1960s the US has approached the issue on the principle that Israel should maintain a “qualitative military edge” (QME), and the concept has been formalized in legislation from Congress.

But the UAE, which sits along the strategic Strait of Hormuz across from Iran, which is seen by Israel and the United States as a major threat, has sought the advanced fighters for several years.

Trump, who polls suggest will be defeated by Democrat Joe Biden in the November 3 election, reportedly wants to rush through the F-35 sale by January, when he would have to step down if not reelected.

Gantz also suggested that Esper could be visiting the Jewish state soon, telling his US counterpart that he is “looking forward to host you in Israel.”

While the Pentagon did not provide any information on the document signed by the two defense chiefs, according to Israeli media, it pledged the US to supporting Israel’s QME for the next four years.

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