Change in administration after November 3 vote could shift US focus in Middle East
Democrats could block a landmark US weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates to avoid irritating Iran because their presidential candidate, Joe Biden, says he wants to negotiate with Tehran to contain its nuclear development, says an Israeli analyst.
Prof. Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US policy in the Middle East at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, says that if Biden wins and the Democrats sweep both houses of Congress, it could threaten the planned sale of 50 F-35 warplanes to the UAE, as well as an expansion of the Abraham Accords, which were concluded between Israel and the UAE as well as Bahrain.
“The assumption is that [Biden] won’t follow [President Donald Trump’s] path of that regional alliance because of his desire to negotiate a deal with Iran,” Gilboa told The Media Line.
The assumption is that Biden won’t follow President Donald Trump’s path of that regional alliance because of his desire to negotiate a deal with Iran
“Supplying arms to Gulf states and adding more countries to the regional alliance with Israel will infuriate Iran, so he might put that on hold,” he stated.
Late last week, the State Department announced it planned to swiftly advance the sale of the fighter jets to the UAE, foregoing the standard – though not formalized – 40-day period usually extended to Congress to review and approve such deals.
Democratic lawmakers, who already hold a majority in the House, have expressed their frustration with the rushed process.
Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that “rushing these sales is not in anyone’s interest.” Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that “recklessly accelerating the timeline around a reportedly artificial deadline precludes sufficient consideration.”
Since the Trump Administration has decided to try to finalize the sale before the UAE’s National Day on December 2, Congress will have less time to decide whether to authorize or block the transaction.
According to Gilboa, “everything” hinges on Tuesday’s election.
“If there was any normalcy and continuity between changing administrations, like there historically was, then it wouldn’t matter who won the elections,” he explained.
“Congress would never redo deals, but the American system is so crazed right now, that who knows what’ll happen,” he stated.
Congress would never redo deals, but the American system is so crazed right now, that who knows what’ll happen
In addition to the Abraham Accords, signed in September at the White House, the Trump Administration has brokered a preliminary peace deal between Israel and Sudan, and says other countries in the region are interested in deals of their own.
Some Democrats in recent years have called for a tougher approach toward Israel over the conflict with the Palestinians in order to force Jerusalem to take such steps as freezing West Bank settlements or releasing Palestinian prisoners.
Some have also called for halting the generous US military aid given to Israel by former president Barak Obama, and using it as leverage on the Palestinian question. Biden, however, opposes this approach and refused to include it in the party’s 2020 platform.
“The more progressive parts of the party believe that all these [Gulf] countries are reactionary and that the US should cut ties with them,” said Gilboa, who has served as senior adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and prime minister.
The more progressive parts of the party believe that all these Gulf countries are reactionary and that the US should cut ties with them
“We’ll see what influence and positions they’ll have [if Biden wins]. He’ll have to give them something to ensure party unity,” he said.
In Jerusalem, government officials continue to criticize Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s handling of the deal. Netanyahu was alleged to have secretly promised Washington in August that he would not oppose the sale of the state-of-the-art planes to the UAE in return for its agreement to normalize ties with Israel.
The alleged promise, said to have been given without receiving assurances that Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) would be maintained and without consulting or notifying military or defense officials, broke with long-standing Israeli policy regarding such deals.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a rival of Netanyahu’s, says his recent talks with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper secured handsome compensation for Israel.
“The US promised to preserve Israel’s QME, and that’s anchored in American law,” Daniel Diker, a fellow and senior project director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told The Media Line.
“These [F-35s] are different kinds of Mercedes, so to speak. There are ways to ensure Israel has the most advanced jets,” he said, alluding to the common US practice of slightly downgrading or modifying weapon systems sold to Middle Eastern countries.
As to the effect the unprecedented deal might have on the region, Diker says he expects it to whet the appetites of the UAE’s neighbors.
“I believe we’ll see similar requests from other Gulf nations. But it will take a few years until that happens, and many things can change between now and then,” he said.
I believe we’ll see similar requests from other Gulf nations. But it will take a few years until that happens, and many things can change between now and then
“Anything could happen. The new Congress could delay or cancel agreements that the current Congress approves,” he stated.
“Sure, that will be very difficult to do,” Gilboa continued. “But it’s a very complex system in Washington. Anything could happen.”