"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Selling arms to China, or not

By Ze'ev Schiff

The Israeli-American crisis over the sale of an advanced technology weapons system to China has also turned into an Israeli-Chinese crisis in the wake of an American demand that Israel not return to the Chinese the Harpy assault drone that China recently acquired and which it sent back to Israel for an upgrade.

The firm demand was raised at a meeting between Israel's representatives and the Pentagon's representative, Lisa Bronson. The Pentagon is demanding that Israel in effect break its contract with China and not return the drones, which have already become part of the Chinese operational deployment. Israel's representatives were shocked by the demand, but American sources say that Israel will give in. Either way, Israel will be damaged by the double crisis.

The assault drone, which is mostly meant against targets like various sorts of radars, is produced by the Israel Aircrafts Industries. It is based on Israeli technology and some technology purchased from Germany, through which the system was originally planned to be manufactured. As in the case of the Phalcon plane, there is no American technology on board.

There are those in Israel who argue that is enough for Israel to sell the Harpy to whoever it wants. But life is not as simple as those who want to sell nearly everything think it is. Israel often pleads with the U.S. not to sell weapons based on American technology that could endanger Israel. Washington often complies, but it argues that there is an understanding with Israel not to sell weapons systems that could harm U.S. national security, and in every case to consult with it first. Israel argues, as in the case of the Phalcon, that it reported on time about the deal, and the Americans say that if that is true, they would have vehemently demanded the deal be voided. They add that European countries complied last year with the American embargo on arms sales to China.

Those who present the affair as if it is a conflict between Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and Defense Ministry Director General Amos Yaron are ignoring the political reality. Even if Yaron leaves his post (he has meanwhile won "immunity" because of the incorrect reports about the demand he be fired), the argument/clash will not be considered without some decisions of principle. Feith, whose support for Israel needs no proving, won complete backing on the matter of the sales to China from his direct superior, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who is also a friend of Israel. Both are also known for their hawkish approach to China.

The problem is that Israel walked into the problem of a severe clash - and not for the first time - with many members of Congress who maintain an anti-China line. In recent weeks there were hysterical reports in the U.S. about Israeli advanced technology sales to China. It's been said, for example, that American soldiers defending Taiwan could be harmed by Israeli technologies, and American ships by the Harpy. A special congressional committee held hearings and heard some very tough remarks against Israel.

A key question that cannot be ignored is why such misunderstandings repeatedly come up between Israel and the U.S. regarding China. There's a series here: once it was about the sale of Lavie technologies to China, then about the supposed sale of the U.S.-made Patriot missile secrets to China. One time it was in the wake of the sale of advanced air-to-air missiles to China, and then came the Phalcon affair - and there are plenty of other examples.

It is impossible to win with the argument that Taiwan is trying to drive a wedge between Israel and the U.S.; or that we told the Americans, who apparently did not understand the Israeli English; or that it is all a matter of jealousy in the arms industry, as if it were a matter of citrus exports. And there's too much counting on friends in Washington to get us out of every problem.

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Milton Frihetsson, 05:24


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