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France announces €16 billion in warplanes sales to United Arab Emirates

FRANCE announced today it had secured a €16 billion (£13.6bn) “mega-contract” to sell 80 Rafale warplanes to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The Defence Ministry said the deal was France’s largest ever weapons contract for export, and it marks a political win for President Emmanuel Macron following fallout from Australia’s decision to renege on a contract to buy French submarines.

Mr Macron has launched a diplomatic offensive across the Middle East over the past year, chairing summits on the future of the region in Iraq, pledging to maintain a heavy French military presence as the US moves its attention to the Pacific and squaring up to Turkey over Libya and the Mediterranean. 

The UAE is a centre of French influence in the region, home to a French naval base at Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi and a joint US-French military base in the same emirate. With Saudi Arabia and France, it stands accused of intervening to assist Libyan rebel general Khalifa Haftar in that country’s civil war, opposing Turkey which sent jihadists to support the UN-recognised government.

The mammoth arms sale to the UAE will raise eyebrows as the country — a federation of seven autocratic sheikhdoms — has been heavily involved in Saudi Arabia’s brutal war on Yemen, in which the coalition seeking to restore the ousted government-in-exile of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has repeatedly bombed residential areas, schools and hospitals, most notoriously in a 2018 strike that incinerated a school bus killing 40 children and 11 adults.

The UAE announced its withdrawal from the war in 2020, but the New York Centre for Foreign Policy Affairs found this year that it “continued to be an aggressor” in the country.

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