(JTA) — The United States is committed to preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told his Israeli counterpart.

“A cornerstone of our defense relationship is preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region,” Esper told Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

“The United States is committed to that, and the Department of Defense is committed to that imperative. We will continue to support the longstanding U.S. policy to maintain Israel’s security.”

His comments came on the same day that Reuters reported that the United States is negotiating the sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates and plans to have a letter of agreement prepared by early December.

Israel’s government opposes the sale of the F-35s to the UAE, citing security reasons, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied that he agreed to allow the sale in order to reach the normalization agreement with the UAE signed earlier this month.

U.S. law mandates that Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region must be preserved, including in any U.S. arms sales.

Israel already has F-35s in service and has ordered a total of 50 of the $100 million planes from the Lockheed Martin company, with delivery to be completed by December 2024.

Gantz also met Tuesday with senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and expressed his “gratitude for the exceptional efforts and achievements on the part of Mr. Kushner and the American government at large in advancing peace and stability in the Middle East, which culminated in the Abraham Accords” signed by Bahrain, the UAE and Israel, according to a statement from Gantz’s office.

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