Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Israel Learns the Price of Chinese Arms Sales

When the US pleaded with European Union leaders not to relax their embargo against arms sales to China earlier this year, Brussels diplomats responded by pointing out that Israel, America's closest ally in the Middle East, has been selling weapons technology to Beijing for years, a fact that gets only limited attention in the US press. Now Washington appears to be taking a hardline with Tel Aviv, making it clear to the Israeli leadership that continued technology transfers to China will come at a cost to US-Israeli relations.

The United States has frozen Israel out of the development of a prestigious jet fighter as punishment for its military cooperation with China, Israeli defense industry executives said Sunday.

The executives said the American decision was related to displeasure over Israeli arms deals with China, including its work on Harpy unmanned drones, acquired by China from state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries in the early 1990s. The U.S. fears the Harpys could be deployed during a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, which Washington has pledged to defend.

The executives spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

There was no immediate comment from American officials, and Israeli Defense Ministry would not confirm or deny the report. "We are in the midst of a dialogue with the United States and hope that within its framework understandings will be reached soon," a ministry spokeswoman said.

Pentagon worries over the dramatic increase in Chinese military spending and Beijing's ambitions have finally reached the point where the US military establishment is no longer willing to overlook Israel's arms sales to China. Both Washington and Tel Aviv have been dancing around the issue for several years, though neither government has spoken openly of the disagreement. However, China's recent threats against Taiwan has put Pentagon planners on alert to the very real possibility of a Pacific war with China. Thus, the simmering argument may be about to break out into the open.

Israel was one of the principal foreign participants in the development of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35, which is viewed as the American aircraft of the future. Priced at about $55 million, the plane is designed to combine supersonic speed with stealth technology at a relatively low price.

Parts of the Harpy drones were shipped to Israel last year for what American defense officials say was an upgrade of their capability to locate and destroy enemy radar installations.

Israel denies the American contention, saying the Harpy units were undergoing routine maintenance. Israeli military officials say work on the Harpy deal has been frozen.

Analysts of Chinese military development say the United States is doing its utmost to prevent China from acquiring equipment that could be used in an invasion of Taiwan.

Israel enjoys strong support in Washington. However, that support could be seriously threatened if Israel continues to sell arms to Beijing. After admonishing Europe not to export military technology to China, Washington can hardly continue to tolerate Israel doing the same thing. Freezing Israel out of military contracts is a quiet, but sharp, warning to the Jewish state. American politicians are loathe to openly criticize Israel because of Israel's powerful allies in Washington, including many conservative Christian leaders. However, the Chinese threat to US interests in the Pacific easily trumps the value of US-Israeli relations. If Israel continues its Chinese weapons sales, relations with the US will suffer.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home