It will be the duty of Biden’s management to keep the UAE to the standards it demands from other Joint Strike Fighter partners to ensure the integrity of this cutting-edge technology and therefore the security of the United States.
Last week, the Biden administration notified Congress that it will advance with a substantial arms sale to the United Arab Emirates, including fifty top-tier fighter jets and a series of glaring Reaper drones. The $ 23 billion deal signed by the Trump administration in its days to strengthen the Abraham Agreements has been under review since mid-January.
The proposed transfer of US military arsenal royal jewels to the UAE has raised concerns about human rights, deployment halls, and implications for Israel’s Qualitative Military Force.
However, the biggest concerns were related to the UAE’s growing ties with China. While the sale is ongoing, statements from the US State Department show that Washington’s concerns about Abu Dhabi’s increasingly close relationship with Beijing have not yet been eased.
While the weapon package for the Emirates has been discussed for years, it has served as a sweetener to end the normalization agreement between the “UAE” and Israel. Even before the Abraham Accords, the UAE was one of the largest importers of US weapons, but peace with Israel allowed the emirate to reach the top shelf.
The main headline of the agreement is the US fifth generation F-35 or Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jet, so far only NATO member states and thirteen close US allies, including Israel, as well as the most advanced armed unmanned aerial vehicle MQ -9 Azrael. But given the sensitivity of this technology, Washington needs assurances that the equipment will be properly protected.
Anyway, in July 2019, NATO member Turkey was expelled from the JSF program after taking delivery of Russian S-400 air defense systems that could jeopardize the aircraft’s effectiveness.
Despite its warm relations with Washington, the UAE’s growing ties with China remain a persistent concern, especially in the context of the pending arms deal. Of course, the United States does not require Emirates to finish the trade or business with its largest trading partner.
For example, the Biden administration stated that the UAE did not object to the agreement made in March to produce 200 million doses of suspected Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine domestically. While less than optimal for Washington’s long-term strategic location, China’s billions of dollars investments in the United Arab Emirates ports and free zones will not break the deal either.
But there are a number of other ongoing and expanding areas of cooperation between the UAE and China that could disrupt the arms deal if there is no agreement between Washington and Abu Dhabi.
Military cooperation is such a field. Emirates purchased $ 40 million worth of weapons from China in 2018. Until recently, Washington refused to sell drones to the UAE, which has led to the Emirate being a strong customer of Chinese drones.
The role of the Chinese military in serving these aircraft on land is unclear. These acquisitions are just a fraction of the billions of dollars Emirates spends annually on American military equipment.
Still, the threat of Chinese intelligence gathered on US military equipment even in friendly countries is significant. An August 2009 US diplomatic telegram released by WikiLeaks expressed concern about a Chinese military official’s visit to an Egyptian F-16 aircraft base.
The fact that Emirates is building a Huawei 5G network is also a complex factor for Washington. Advanced American military equipment is based on secure 5G networks that will not be available in the UAE.
According to Christopher Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security, “If it is running on a commercial network supported by Huawei… [the Chinese] check whether we can communicate.” Huawei not only jeopardizes Emirati communications, and therefore US communications, but also undermines the security of operations, logistics, and increased strategic cooperation between the US and the UAE.
Cooperation between the Emirates and China in the development of information technologies such as artificial intelligence, which was recently launched by the UAE’s ambassador to Beijing, is another concern. Over the past decade, Emirates has poured billions of dollars into AI, which has a wide range of strategic applications.
This investment coincides with and compliments the latest technological and business advances in internet piracy, outlined by the UAE’s state-owned firm DarkMatter, which reportedly has recruited several former US National Security Agency experts to spy on domestic terrorists, dissidents and political opponents over the past decade. – American citizens included. In 2017, a subsidiary of DarkMatter entered a business “partnership” with Huawei.
While the Biden administration announces the completion of the arms sale review, Washington is not yet comfortable with the Emirate’s commitments regarding its agreements with China. After the statement, Reuters reported that a State Department spokesman said that the administration expects “a solid and continuous dialogue with the UAE” to strengthen the security partnership. F-35 fighter jet and MQ-9 aircraft.
Fortunately, there is still time. Emirates still has not paid for the equipment and it will take almost half a decade for the first aircraft to arrive. Still, it will be difficult to reach a common understanding between the United Arab Emirates and China.
Abu Dhabi already has a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with Beijing and promises to “transfer technology and expertise in the fields of information and communications technology, artificial intelligence, space and satellites, and other advanced technologies”, among other things. Despite the promise of closer strategic cooperation with the United States, the UAE will hate slowing down some of its cooperation with China in these sensitive areas.
As was the case with Egypt’s Camp David and Jordan’s Wadi Arava peace agreements with Israel, the signing of the Abraham Accords was a turning point not only in UAE-Israel relations but also in US relations with the United Arab Emirates. In 2009, the UAE took a positive step in security cooperation with the United States by signing a Chapter 123 “gold standard” nuclear agreement that pledged to give up uranium enrichment forever.
Undeniably, the agreements opened new and important opportunities for Washington and Abu Dhabi to work together on military matters and intelligence sharing. The potential transfer of the F-35 fighter jet and the MQ-9 aircraft reflects new possibilities for bilateral relations. While peace with Israel is a necessary precondition for these sales, it is insufficient.
As with our NATO partners and Israel, the transfer of these flagship US systems means some degree of monogamy with Washington, at least in some areas.
Recall that in 2005, after Israel sold its anti-radar Harpy attack drone, Washington temporarily suspended Israel from the JSF program. By order of Washington, the UK is currently in the process of removing Huawei equipment from the 5G network, leaving South Korea as one of the fourteen JSF participating states that have not yet determined whether to choose the Chinese provider.
In late 2020, the Trump administration preoccupied Abu Dhabi to reach a common understanding of how this unprecedented arms sale raises U.S. expectations of the UAE towards China.
The dialogue has been fruitful, but the management’s time has run out. It will be the duty of Biden’s administration to keep the UAE up to the standards demanded by other JSF partners, to ensure the integrity of this cutting-edge technology and therefore the security of the United States.