In January and February 1978, President Jimmy Carter negotiated with Egypt and the Sudan to sell them 50 to 60 F-5E fighter jets. This was a part of a larger proposal to offer military help to moderate Middle East governments. He also offered the 12 fighter jets to the Sudan and 60 jets to Saudi Arabia. However, on January 23rd, according to the New York Times, “If President Carter accepts this plan, it would probably arouse controversy in Congress, which is legally required to approve purchases of this size.” Among the more controversial aspects of this proposed deal was whether the Israeli Air Force would retain its superior position in the region.
In January 1978, relations between Israel and its Arab nations were fairly cordial, but by August things cooled a bit. By then, Congress ratified the arms deal. The Times reported, “The Carter Administration was able to marshal its joint Israeli-Arab arms package—sophisticated jet fighter planes for Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia—through the Senate, a place where only a few years ago a huge majority scuttled President Ford’s plan to put the thumbscrews on Israel.” It helped that Carter brokered a peace deal between the former foes, Israel and Egypt, but even with that, the relations between the two countries were still strained.
MacNelly suggests that it would take a bit of tricky maneuvering for the Arab pilot to get his arms sales proposal through the doors of Congress, and in order to do so, the proposal included sales of jets to Israel as well.