The Israeli military is denying that it recently hosted members of the United Arab Emirates armed forces.
This comes after Israel’s i24 News reported on 4 July that the Israeli air force received US and UAE military delegations to review the operation of new F-35 warplanes.
“The extraordinary visit comes as the UAE seeks to purchase its own fleet of the advanced F-35 fighter jets,” i24 claimed.
The F-35 is made by US arms giant Lockheed Martin, one of the biggest beneficiaries of US military aid to Israel and a primary focus of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Israel remains the only military in the region to own the jet.
“We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It has become part of our operational capabilities. We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts,” Amikam Norkin, chief of air operations in the Israeli air force, said in May according to The Jerusalem Post.
“Norkin made the comments while showing a picture of an Israeli F-35 Adir flying over the Lebanese capital of Beirut during the daytime,” the Israeli newspaper reported.
In 2017, the Israeli air force, which has killed and injured thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, and the United Arab Emirates air force, which has done the same in Yemen, participated in joint military exercises.
“Not at all surprised”
The advanced aircraft is able to operate with low radar detection within a territory, “such as Iran,” The Jerusalem Post reported.
Rashed al-Shamsi, an Emirati general, said in April that he “heard that the United States could now be willing to sell the UAE the F-35,” according to the publication Arabian Aerospace.
But any sales of advanced American weapons to an Arab state typically occur only with Israel’s blessing.
The United Arab Emirates and Israel have ties dating back to the 1990s, although the UAE prefers to keep them out of the limelight.
Those early ties came about because at the time the UAE wanted to buy American warplanes but feared Israel might press Washington to reject the sale.
More recently, at least one high-profile Emirati official has discussed military exchanges with Israel.
A year ago, leaked emails by Middle East Eye revealed that UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba responded positively to proposals sent via an Israel lobby group that he meet with Uzi Rubin, an Israeli brigadier-general who was described to him as the “father” of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
Al Otaiba was told that the Israeli general believed Iron Dome could be deployed by “Gulf states facing Iranian missiles.”
“I have not met with Uzi. I would be interested in hearing how it [Iron Dome] did in Gaza recently,” Al Otaiba replied. “I read the press commentary on its performance but would be interested to hear more specifically.”
That exchange of emails took place in December 2012, a month after an Israeli assault on Gaza killed 174 Palestinians, including 33 children, according to UN figures.
In an interview with Defense & Aerospace Report in November 2017, Abdullah al-Hashmi, another Emirati general, talked about the US as the “big brother” to the Emirates and Israel, acting as a broker between the two smaller siblings as the three allies jointly face off against Iran.
“The UAE is not going to go and fight any of the United States allies, we’re going to fight in the same line and we’re going to defeat the same enemy,” the general said.
Israeli delegation goes to Bahrain
Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation attended the annual meeting of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee hosted by Bahrain late last month.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations cultural and educational body, Carmel Shama Hacohen, did not attend the meeting “due to security concerns and the fact that Israel and Bahrain do not have diplomatic ties,” according to The Times of Israel.
But Israel planned to send a “low-level delegation” instead, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Significantly, Shama Hacohen is recommending that Israel rescind its decision to leave UNESCO, which it announced following Trump’s decision last October to pull the US out of the body over its supposed anti-Israel bias.
Shama Hacohen said Israel should consider staying, after Arab states apparently agreed to defer for a year discussions on two resolutions aimed at protecting occupied Jerusalem and Hebron from damage by Israeli colonization.
Israel objects to UNESCO recognizing that the cities are part of the West Bank and that Israel is an occupying power.
Hebron and Jerusalem are on the World Heritage List of endangered sites – a status that must be reviewed annually.
“We have always been open to silent understandings and diplomacy,” Shama Hacohen said in apparent reference to Israel’s dealings with Bahrain over the resolutions.
“The best way to make change on sensitive issues like the holy place in Jerusalem is through dialogue and understanding,” Shama Hacohen added.
He cited as an example the publicly announced meeting that took place last month in Amman between Jordan’s King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Shama Hacohen did not say explicitly whether delaying the UNESCO resolutions on Jerusalem and Hebron had been on the agenda in Amman.
As part of the Saudi-led bloc that is forging a close alliance with Israel, Bahrain’s monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has recently cozied up to Israel and its US lobby groups.
Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa has also endorsed Israeli military attacks against its neighbors.
In May, amid large-scale Israeli air raids in Syria, and after President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement, Khalifa tweeted that “as long as Iran breaches the status quo in the region and violates states with its troops and missiles, any state in the region, including Israel, has the right to defend itself by destroying the sources of danger.”
Fallout for Qatar
The Electronic Intifada’s 10 July report about how a lobbyist working for Qatar channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars of Qatari government money to extreme pro-Israel organizations has attracted wide attention in Arabic-language media.
The organizations that received the Qatari money were the Zionist Organization of America, a company connected to Christian Zionist US politician Mike Huckabee, and a group called Our Soldiers Speak.
On 11 July, Israel’s Channel 10 revealed that Our Soldiers Speak, which was founded by a former Israeli soldier who emigrated from Britain, had sent several senior Israeli military officers and officials on international propaganda tours since it received a $100,000 gift of Qatari money in October last year.
According to Channel 10, the Israeli personnel whose junkets may have been funded by Qatar include Zvika Haimovich, a brigadier-general in the Israeli air force, and Marlene Mazel, an official in the “counterterrorism” division of the Israeli justice ministry.
Qatar has been locked in an increasingly bitter dispute with its neighbors that escalated dramatically when Saudi Arabia and the UAE imposed a blockade on it a year ago.
Needless to say, publications in Saudi Arabia and the UAE are not as eager to report on their own governments’ burgeoning ties with Israel.
Ali Abunimah contributed research and analysis.
- Lockheed Martin
- United Arab Emirates
- Amikam Norkin
- Defense & Aerospace Report
- Abdullah al-Hashmi
- Rashed al-Shamsi
- Rick Edwards
- The Jerusalem Post
- Times of Israel
- Carmel Shama-Hacohen
- Yousef Al Otaiba
- Saudi Arabia
- Zionist Organization of America
- Mike Huckabee
- Channel 10
- Our Soldiers Speak
- Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa
- King Abdullah of Jordan
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- World Heritage List
- Zvika Haimovich
- Marlene Mazel
- Israeli justice ministry
- Joseph Allaham
- World Heritage Sites
- Iron Dome
- Uzi Rubin
- Middle East Eye
- Arab normalization