"Weapons of Mass Deception"


U.S. Chilly to Israel After China Deals

January 7, 2005

JERUSALEM — You don't need to be a great diplomat to understand that the cancellation of the visit here by General John Jumper, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, who was supposed to come to Israel several weeks ago, was connected to the current tension between the American and Israeli defense establishments against the backdrop of the Harpy drone aircraft.

State Department officials claim — unofficially, of course — that the cancellation of the visit was an elementary form of protest. When Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sends enraged letters of protest to the Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, it isn't exactly the right moment for working visits with the heads of Israel's Defense Ministry and with leaders of the Israeli defense industries.

The signals that the Pentagon is sending to Israel against the background of the current crisis are clear-cut and harsh. This is not merely a personal dispute between two high-ranking officials in the two defense establishments — namely the director-general of the Defense Ministry, Amos Yaron, and the number-three official in the American Defense Department, Douglas Feith, undersecretary of policy. Nor is this merely a personal caprice by Feith, who is considered here to be an impulsive man with extreme worldviews, known for his eccentric and overheated reactions. This should be seen as a substantive dispute involving the death spasms of the military-economic romance between Israel and China — that began secretly in the early 1980s, with American consent and encouragement, and ended in a huge crisis with the administration at the time of the Phalcon spy plane affair in 2000.

Israel and the United States have a series of written agreements and unwritten understandings regarding what is permitted and what is forbidden in Israeli military export: when Israel must receive authorization, when it must merely give advance notice and so forth. There are also formal frameworks for meetings between the two defense establishments, Israeli and American, during which reports and opinions are exchanged regarding military export, such as the formal meetings of the so-called between the two defense establishments, meetings with the heads of the political-security division of the State Department, and other meetings both fixed and occasional.

On China, all the American-Israeli agreements and understandings on military export collapsed in 2000. Nothing was said formally, but the Americans transmitted a clear message: Don't sell offensive weaponry to China. They forced Israel at the time to cancel, publicly and decisively, an agreement that it had signed with China for the sale of three Phalcon-class airborne warning systems. This was a deal with a potential worth of more than $1 billion, a significant sum to Israel. Its cancellation caused huge consternation to the Israeli government and a crisis in Israeli-Chinese relations.

Israel claimed that if the Phalcon deal did not go through, Israel's defense industries would collapse. But in the last few years, Israel's defense exports have exceeded pre-Phalcon totals. If Israel's defense exports in 2000 totaled $2.49 billion, in 2004 they reached $3.13 billion, without the Phalcon.

Despite the Phalcon affair, Israel insisted on misunderstanding the message — its military industrial complex continued to sell problematic military equipment to China.

It was in this spirit, as early as 2000, close to the eruption of the Phalcon affair, that Israel reported to the administration about a deal with China to sell the attack drone known by the trade name Harpy, produced by a subsidiary of Israel Aircraft Industries. The Americans didn't like the deal — but they also didn't express firm opposition. The Israelis understood that as an okay. In the intervening years, the Americans continued to show interest in the topic, but not to the point of creating a crisis.

According to the professional literature that has appeared throughout the years, the Harpy, in its Israeli form, has been operational in the Israeli air force since the early 1980s. It is a pilotless aircraft with a piston engine, launched with the assistance of a rocket accelerator and capable of maintaining flight over long distances. It has sensors that can pick up various radiation spectra, such as those used in the radar of control and navigation systems, surface-to-air missile batteries and the like. The moment the flying drone homes in on a radiation beam, it rides it down to the target and explodes. Various professional publications have made one thing clear: This is a fully developed attack system. It is not defensive.

And Israel has been putting it in the hands of a country that, since the fall of the Soviet bloc, the United States has come to see as the strategic enemy of the coming decade.

This yellow panic began to emerge in the Clinton administration, but came to full blossom during the Bush presidency. The Bush administration, which is supported by the most extreme elements of the American right — including elements of the old, militantly anti-Communist China Lobby — sees China as the next enemy.

American pilots are trained today on simulators against a very particular enemy. Nobody calls the enemy China. But everyone understands that the simulators are programmed to re-create attack conditions against Chinese weaponry. Even in the biggest exercises — the Navy's Top Gun, the Air Force's Red Flag — the enemy, while unnamed, is always marked in yellow.

It's hard to escape the feeling that in Israel somebody prefers to ignore the special American sensitivity to Chinese matters.

In March 2004, director general of the Defense Ministry Amos Yaron was asked by Pentagon officials whether Israel still stood by its commitments and wasn't working on an additional deal to sell Harpy-class attack drones to China. He checked and discovered that in 2002, Israel had indeed sold — at China's request — parts of the Harpy. He also learned that in 2004 there was an additional Chinese order for seven more Harpy kits. Yaron ordered that the Chinese request not be honored. This was reported to the Americans last July.

The moment the report was received, a furor broke out, during which Douglas Feith made serious accusations against the director general of the Israeli Defense Ministry, up to and including impugning his integrity. Since then, incidentally, Feith has apparently ignored the Defense Ministry's representative in New York, Yekutiel Mor. Contrary to published reports, Feith and his office continue to work with the Israeli mission, but Feith himself, as a form of personal protest, ignores Mor, a retired general who was a party to the conversations with Yaron about the Harpy.

The United States fundamentally does not believe Israel's reports. The Americans collect information, from their own sources, about military developments in China. They hear and see Israeli defense industry representatives in China, offering deals on systems that have not yet been approved for export. All this material is gathered by American intelligence, including information about what appear to be unreported deals.

Now there is an examination under way surrounding the Harpy: The Americans are sending questions and the Israeli defense establishment is answering, hoping that they will suffice and the affair will calm down.

So far, no such luck — even though the Israeli-Chinese relationship has been significantly curtailed. In 1995, then-CIA director James Woolsey disclosed that Israel had supplied between $2 billion and $3 billion worth of military equipment to China since 1980. In the last four years, Chinese orders total only several tens of millions of dollars, apparently because the Chinese understand the nature of Israel's dependence on America. The Phalcon incident taught that when the crunch comes, they are likely to be left without technical and logistical backup for equipment sold here.

In Israel, the matter of the replacement parts is presented as a basic, ongoing misunderstanding, arising from the fact that Israel and the United States have different laws governing defense exports. According to Israeli law, when an export deal is signed, it includes ongoing service of replacement parts, guidance, logistics and so on. American law, by contrast, mandates that in deals with certain countries, including China, each new request for parts requires a new export permit.

The Americans aren't worried about spare parts. They're worried that under the guise of spare parts, Israel is performing upgrades that fundamentally transform a weapons system, making it even more deadly.

Israel will inevitably give in to America's terms. But perhaps this time, for a change, the defense establishment here will understand that they have to stop playing games. No Israeli defense industry profit margin is worth a crisis with Israel's main and only ally.

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specificallyauthorized by the copyright owner. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
Milton Frihetsson, 02:46


Post a Comment