Gulf states also interested in purchase of F-35s

The Saudis are about to receive the first of 84 Boeing F-15SAs.

RIYADH - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also want to acquire F-35s and, given subtle advances in their attitudes towards Israel away from the adversarial policy of the last 70 years, they could be on the verge of a breakthrough that has the potential to dramatically alter the geopolitical realities of the region.

Even as the Israeli Air Force goes operational with the first of the 50 stealth jets it has ordered, hitting Iranian targets in Syria, the Saudis are about to receive the first of 84 Boeing F-15SAs — the “SA” designation indicates they have been specially tailored for the kingdom’s needs.

The Royal Saudi Air Force will also get upgrade kits for its existing force of 70 F-15s.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has since 2011 rejected repeated requests from the UAE for the radar-evading F-35 built by Lockheed Martin. This was primarily because such sales would undermine Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge — QME — which Washington has pledged to maintain and even enshrined in law.

However, the UAE, which, like Saudi Arabia, is a key ally of the United States against Iran and actively participated in the war against the Islamic State, is viewed with considerably more leniency in Washington. Its military takes part in multinational military exercises with the United States.

The threat from an expansionist Iran has changed everything. “An emboldened Iran has caused a massive strategic crevice to form in the… Gulf,” observed analyst Tyler Rogoway in the War Zone, a US defence website.

“Sunni Arab states… have found a far more threatening enemy in Shia-controlled Iran than in Israel, with Israel increasingly seeing their once bitter foes as strategic partners and maybe one day even allies.”

Ed Blanche is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly. He has covered Middle Eastern affairs since 1967.

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