The Signing of the deal comes as French President Emmanuel Macron begins a two-day trip to the Persian Gulf, during which he will also visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The largest-ever overseas sale of Rafale jets was sealed on Friday as French President Emmanuel Macron began his trip, and recovered some of the embarrassment of losing a huge deal with Australia to supply conventional submarines.
In a statement by the French Government speaking of the deal, it said: “This contract cements a strategic partnership that is stronger than ever and directly contributes to regional stability.”
The deal was signed on the fringes of the Dubai 2020 Expo between Mr Macron and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan.
Mr Macron’s visit comes at a time when Gulf Arab states have voiced uncertainty about the United States focus on the region even as they seek more weapons from their key security ally.
The French leader has forged a good relationship with bin Zayed with investments flowing between the two countries.
The deal will directly support 7,000 jobs in France and guarantee the supply chain of the Dassault Aviation-made aircraft until the end of 2031, a French official told journalists.
He also said the UAE contract, which follows deals in Greece, Egypt and Croatia this year, would lead to an increase of the monthly Rafale production.
Shares in Dassault Aviation SA, the Rafale’s maker, rose more than 9 percent.
The F4 model Rafales, currently under development, will be delivered from 2027.
By snapping up the fighter craft, the UAE is following the lead of Gulf rival Qatar, which has bought 36 of the planes.
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The on-off negotiations for the Rafale fighter jets took more than 10 years with Abu Dhabi publicly rebuffing France’s offer to supply 60 Rafale jets in 2011 as “uncompetitive and unworkable”. Abu Dhabi already has French-built Mirage 2000 warplanes.
Defence sources said the Rafale would replace the Mirage 2000 fleet but is unlikely to displace the American-built F-35 as the UAE continues to hedge its security with two main suppliers, France and the United States.
The deal could nonetheless be seen as a signal of impatience as the US Congress hesitates on approving an F-35 deal amid concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei 5G technology in the country.
Abu Dhabi also ordered 12 Caracal helicopters. It is the French code name for the H225M, the multi-role military version of the Super Puma.
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France has deep ties with the UAE and is one of its main arms’ suppliers, but it has faced increasing pressure to review its sales because of the conflict between a Saudi-led military coalition and Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has become one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
A Human Rights Watch statement 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.”
The UAE is estimated to have spent £15bn on defence in 2020, equating to 5.6 percent of its GDP.
This makes it the second-highest spender on military hardware in the Persian Gulf region after Saudi Arabia who spent around £45bn on arms.