Since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, every U.S. president has formally upheld the strategic priority of Israel through what today has become an official policy of the United States government called “Qualitative Military Edge” or QME. Enshrined as law in 2008, it essentially calls for Israel to “build and maintain a military that is qualitatively better than any other in the region.” The concept is credited to none other than Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, who established QME as “its basic defense doctrine” and is the backbone of the U.S.-Israeli relationship writ large.
A group of Democratic members of Congress has taken it upon themselves to remind President Trump that he should not lose sight of the law requiring the U.S. to preserve Israel’s military advantage as reports emerge about the Administration’s “push” to sell advanced stealth F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the eve of the official enactment of the historic Israeli-UAE normalization treaty.
In a letter signed by nine Congressional Democrats led by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and joined by eight others, the representatives began by praising the U.S. role in “broker[ing]” the Israeli-UAE deal and an odd appeal to “a more peaceful future for the region,” before embarking on the subject of keeping Israel the most armed nation in the Middle East.
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Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), whose adjacent districts 22 and 23, respectively in the state of Florida hosts the highest concentration of Israeli defense industry companies of any other region in the United States, joined with their signatures, along with Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Ted Lieu (R-Calif.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).
Citing QME’s “importance to members of Congress and the American people,” they went on to highlight the “strenuous opposition” of Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gantz and the “Israeli national security community,” in general, to the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. “As stalwart supporters of Israel,” the letter concluded, “we will oppose any arms sale that would threaten Israel’s QME, and we will take every opportunity to advocate for Israel’s security. In accordance with US law, we firmly expect your Administration to keep Congress fully apprised of any pending arm sales to the region.”
The adoption of QME as a pillar of U.S. policy in Israel occurred after the Six-Day war, when LBJ took over France’s role as Israel’s arms supplier. The occasion was marked by the sale of 50 F-4 Phantom fighters and 90 A‐4 Skyhawk jets in 1968 after then-Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Yitzhak Rabin and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul Warnke worked out a deal together to “massively” upgrade the Israeli Air Force’s capabilities.
In 2016, President Barack Obama caused an uproar when he publicly questioned the necessity of QME, frustrated that pending arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states were being held up by the provisions of Title 22 of U.S. code § 8604. Obama was trying to sell warplanes and drones to the Saudis at unprecedented levels, with overtures totaling more than $115 billion to the Middle East, alone.
The demand is coming from the ongoing human tragedy in Yemen, of course, which is on route to claiming another hundred thousand lives and untold devastation. The worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century is being fueled by American weapons of war and its NATO allies, such as France and Germany.
The Middle East accounted for 49 percent of U.S. arms exports in the second term of the Obama Administration and Trump’s term is expected to eclipse the $278 billion in foreign-arms sales Obama racked up by the end of his presidency.
Already the world’s leading arms exporter, the United States under the Trump Administration is ramping up global arms sales, and the UAE is a big target market. The U.S.-brokered Israeli-UAE normalization pact seems to be, at its core, a way to subvert the “deliberate policy of arms purchase diversification” presently enforced by Arab states. Some have even accused the president of using the F-35s as a reward to the UAE for their cooperation with the apartheid state, according to the New York Times.
The division this issue has spurned in Israel’s government reveals it to be a case where U.S. policy supersedes Israel’s wishes, which are so often granted. The letter addressed to president Trump by the nine members of Congress may have been a futile reflex of the shadow Israeli lobby that inhabits the House via the likes of Wasserman and Deutch. U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, tried to quell the maelstrom in February when plans for the F-35 sale to the UAE were published by the Israeli press. “The QME process will kick in as it has before,” he assured readers of the Jerusalem Post.
The only thing everybody seems to agree on is the continued sale of the tools of war. According to a 2018 article from The National Interest, Trump planned to take over where Obama left off, focusing more on selling air defense systems and munitions, whereas Obama had preferred to peddle fighter jets and helicopters.
Feature photo | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaches to one of the first two next-generation F-35 fighter jets after it landed during an unveiling ceremony upon arrival in Nevatim Air Force base near Beersheba, Southern Israel, Dec. 12, 2016. Ariel Schalit | AP
Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.