Potential F-35 sales to Gulf states have driven US officials to take extra steps to guarantee Israel’s military superiority over its neighbors, known as the Qualitative Military Edge (QME).
On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz met at the Pentagon and signed a joint declaration affirming Washington’s commitment to ensure Israel’s QME.
“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.
Details of the declaration are not clear, and it may be largely symbolic since maintaining Israel’s QME is already mandated by US law. A source from the meeting told The Jerusalem Post that an agreement was formulated to further Israeli acquisitions of US weapons.
The US sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE that is rumored to be part of Abu Dhabi’s normalization agreement with Israel was initially objected to by Israeli officials. But now, Israel could be angling to get some new weapons out of the deal. In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu submitted a wishlist of advanced weaponry to President Trump worth $8 billion.
The F-35 sale has met resistance in Congress, with upholding Israel’s QME being a top priority on both sides of the aisle. A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced a bill in the House that would effectively give Israel veto powers over US arms sales to the Middle East.