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UAE secures 80 French-made Rafale warplanes in 'historic' deal

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) is greeted by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan during his tour of the French pavillion at the Dubai Expo on the first day of his Gulf tour on 3 December 2021. [THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images]
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) is greeted by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan during his tour of the French pavillion at the Dubai Expo on the first day of his Gulf tour on 3 December 2021. [THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images]

France will supply the UAE with 80 Rafale warplanes, according to a statement by the French Presidency today.

"This is an outcome of the strategic partnership between the two countries, consolidating their capacity to act together for their autonomy and security," France said, while the defence minister called the deal 'historic'.

Signed at a ceremony in Dubai attended by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MBZ) and French President Emmanuel Macron, the $19.20 billion arms deal marks the largest ever bulk order for the aircraft.

A leading customer for the French defence industry, the UAE has also committed to purchasing 12 Caracal military transport helicopters.

The Rafale order comes after more than a decade of negotiation between the two countries with Abu Dhabi publicly criticising a previous offer in 2011 by France to supply 60 Rafale jets as "uncompetitive and unworkable".

Defence sources told Reuters that while the Rafale warplanes would replace the Mirage 2000 fleet, it was unlikely to displace a proposed multi-billion sale of American-built 50 F35 stealth jets to the UAE.

READ: Egypt president meets CEO of French military giant, 1 week after Egypt Papers leaked

As a side deal to the Abraham Accords, which saw the UAE normalise relations with Israel in August 2020, the Trump administration approved a $23.37 billion arms sale.

However, negotiations stalled this year with President Joe Biden temporarily suspending the sale in January amid wider security concerns such as UAE's relationship with China. It's likely that Abu Dhabi's deal with France reflects a growing sense of impatience with the US.

The Rafale order follows orders of the warplane from Qatar and Egypt this year, signalling a deepening of France's military connections to the region.

Paris has come under scrutiny for its recent arms sales. In a statement, Human Rights Watch said: "France is going ahead with these sales despite the UAE playing a leading role in the atrocity-marred military operations led by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen."

President Macon is currently on a two-day trip to the Gulf where he will visit the UAE and Qatar today before travelling to Saudi Arabia tomorrow. He is set to secure further deals, including a French-Saudi partnership to deliver Riyadh's Al-Ula tourism site.

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