Binyamin Netanyahu
Binyamin NetanyahuReuters

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu privately went along with a plan for the Trump administration to sell advanced weapons to the United Arab Emirates, despite publicly saying later that he opposed the arms deal, officials familiar with the negotiations told The New York Times on Thursday.

Netanyahu chose not to try to block the deal as he took part in a broader effort in recent months to secure a diplomatic breakthrough normalizing relations between Israel and the Emirates, the officials said.

But after news of the arms sale became public late last month, Netanyahu repeatedly denied that he had given assurances to the Trump administration that Israel would not oppose the Emirati arms deal. The officials said Netanyahu’s public statements were false. He then stopped publicly complaining about the proposed arms sale after a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem last week that brought the Israeli Prime Minister back in line, the officials said.

The White House has accelerated its push in recent weeks to sell a package of cutting-edge weapons to the Emirates, including F-35 fighter jets and Reaper drones.

The deal also includes EA-18G Growler jets — electronic warfare planes that pave the way for stealth attacks by jamming enemy air defenses. That element of the package has not previously been reported.

Trump said during a White House news conference several weeks ago that the UAE was interested in buying F-35 jets.

“They have the money and they would like to order quite a few F-35s,” he added.

A subsequent report indicated that the Trump administration has accelerated a push to sell the F-35 stealth fighter and advanced armed drones to the United Arab Emirates.

American officials are careful to insist that the new push to sell the weapons to the Emiratis is not a direct reward for their role in the agreement, in which the Emirates became the third Arab nation to recognize Israel in exchange for Israel suspending plans to apply sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria. But they do not dispute that after years of American refusals to sell F-35s to the Emiratis, the change in position is linked to the diplomatic initiative.

The arms deal could face significant resistance in Congress; by law, weapons sales must not weaken Israel’s military edge in the Middle East. But Trump administration officials have discussed bypassing a critical part of the lawmakers’ review process, which might improve their chances of pushing through the arms sales before the election in November, according to the report.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement that it “is not true” that Netanyahu gave approval to American officials for a weapons deal involving F-35s. He added that he was confident the Trump administration “is fully committed to maintaining” Israel’s military advantage in the region.

The State Department declined to comment. A spokesman for the National Security Council did not respond to a message seeking comment.