The French government has sealed a $19-billion arms trade deal with United Arab Emirates (UAE) to sell 80 Rafale warplanes and 12 military helicopters to the Arab country, France’s Defense Ministry has announced, amid French President Emanuel Macron’s two-day tour to the Persian Gulf region.
The French Defense Ministry announced in a statement on Friday that the deal was France’s largest-ever weapons contract for export, which makes the Emirates Air Force the first user of the Rafale F4 outside of France.
According to the Manufacturer Dassault Aviation, F4 is the upgraded version of Rafale combat aircraft, which is currently under development and will be delivered from 2027.
The deal comes in the wake of the collapse of a $66-billion contract for Australia to buy 12 French submarines, which caused a controversy.
Macron’s close relationship with Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, has reportedly made for the large-scale investments flowing between both countries. The deal comes after similar agreements with Greece, Egypt, and Croatia earlier this year.
Defense sources said the Rafale would replace the French-built Mirage 2000 fleet but is unlikely to displace the American-built F-35 as the UAE prefers to secure its arm supplies from its main contractors of France and US.
The deal could be seen as a sign of impatience from the UAE, as the US Congress is hesitating on the approval of an F-35 deal due to concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China.
The development comes as human rights activists are concerned that French arms sales to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf are fueling conflicts in the region.
“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,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
“Yet, the UAE ranks as France’s 5th largest arms customer between 2011 and 2020. The French president should denounce the human rights violations in these countries,” the statement added.
French arms contractors in the Persian Gulf region, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are heavily criticized by rights groups and European lawmakers over violations of human rights.