The proposed $ 23 billion sale includes 50 F-35 aircraft, 18 Reaper drones and a huge missile stockpile. The outgoing administration is part of a hasty eleven-hour foreign policy move, including a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is also the cornerstone of the UAE peace agreement with Israel, which the Trump administration helped negotiate.
While the UAE is a critical security partner for the U.S., critics say the sale of these advanced weapons to the Gulf ally threatens to accelerate arms competition in the region and could jeopardize Israel’s security. Democrats in particular have decided to try to elect an elected president, Joe Biden, who will take office in 42 days.
“There are too many unanswered and very serious questions about the U.S.’s long-term national security interests,” said Bob Menendez, a New Jersey senator, a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and a leading supporter of rejection decisions. “Voting against these resolutions sends a message to the executive … that we are willing to give up our congressional responsibilities. It’s hard to bring this back if you let go. “
Despite the failed votes on Wednesday, Biden is likely to be able to boost sales when he takes office in January with the help of the executive. Biden Secretary of State candidate Antony Blinken said in October that the Biden team “has concerns about what commitments it has made or failed to make to the UAE” as part of its F-35 aircraft business.
Lawmakers say the Trump government is trying to speed up the sale without considering its consequences, including human rights concerns and the deployment of its proximity by the UAE in the Middle East – and whether weapons could fall into the wrong hands. .
“It’s as if we deliberately don’t want to look at these issues,” Paul, who supports a non-interventionist foreign policy, lamented on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “This is not a country to which we should add the finest weapons.”
Until the votes, the Trump administration launched a feverish pressure campaign against the resolutions. White House senior adviser and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, joined the Senate GOP conference call on Tuesday to raise the issue of arms sales, and a week earlier, top secretary of state and Pentagon officials briefed key senators on the proposed transfer. .
The White House has argued that sales are critical in curbing Iranian aggression in the region. Officials also said the UAE would buy their weapons from China or Russia if not from the United States
The Trump government defended the proposed arms transfer in a statement on Wednesday, saying the president would veto the measures if they hit his desk. The statement specifically states that the sale “will not adversely affect” Israel’s “quality military advantage” in the region, which is a top priority for lawmakers.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Initially expressed concern about the impact of the sale on Israel, but told POLITICO this week that “Israelis were confident they would feel good about it. “
Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a leading supporter of the arms trade, noted that Israeli leaders support the sale and that Israel and the UAE have recently normalized their relations as part of Trump-mediated Abraham Accords.
“The UAE is worth this sale because it is closely aligned with the United States in the Middle East,” Inhofe said. “This is a vital counter-terrorism partner. The United Arab Emirates fought alongside our Afghan troops and against ISIS. This is also vital to the United States ’efforts against Iran – both Iran’s pursuit of regional dominance and its support for terrorist proximity. “
The sales blocking group – Senator Menendez, Paul and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) – initially tabled four resolutions addressing all aspects of arms sales, but decided to vote for only two of them: one on the F-35 , another on the Reaper drones.
The trio betrayed the prospects for resolutions passed in the Senate, noting that previous votes to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia were successful only because of high tensions between Washington and Riyadh over the targeted assassination of Saudi journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi. .
By law, Congress has the authority to cancel a planned foreign arms sale within 30 days of notifying the administration.