French President Emmanuel Macron and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Fontainebleau near Paris, France. 15 September, 2021. (Photo credit: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)
On 3 December, the United Arab Emirates and France sealed a $19 billion arms deal coinciding with the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron to Abu Dhabi as part of a two-day trip to the Gulf, during which he will also visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“This contract cements a strategic partnership that is stronger than ever and directly contributes to regional stability,” the French presidency said in a statement after Macron and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MbZ) signed the deal on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo 2020.
Under the deal, the UAE purchased 80 Rafale fighter planes from France, in addition to 12 Caracal military helicopters, marking the largest ever overseas sale of Rafale jets.
The Rafale fighter jets, an F4 model that is currently under development, is set to be delivered by 2027.
The record-breaking deal signals a deepening of security and military ties between Paris and Abu Dhabi, following over 10 years of negotiations. In 2011, the UAE rebuked an original French offer of 60 jets as an “unworkable” deal.
However, experts believe this deal also signals impatience from Emirati authorities as the US Congress hesitates on approving a deal for the purchase of F-35 jets over concerns about the UAE’s relationship with China, including the prevalence of Huawei 5G technology in the country.
The UAE is France’s top economic partner among the Gulf states, and there are a number of permanent French military bases in Abu Dhabi.
In October, France was the first nation to be featured at the 2020 Dubai Expo.
Macron hosted Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, MbZ, at the Chateau de Fontainebleau in September, which the UAE helped renovate in 2019 with a gift of $11.3 million.