Israel and China
The Israel-US Bilateral Relationship Needs to be Mended
Israel is a strong U.S. ally in the war against terror, a long-time friend, and a confidant on issues pertaining to Middle East peace and security. That unique relationship however, has been recently challenged by Israel's attempted to sell sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or Harpy Killer drones to China. This has led some analysts to speculate that the depth and strength of the Israel-US bilateral relationship is now in question -- with a reformulation almost inevitable.
Recent comments by Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Israeli Parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, highlighted the tension between the two countries, "There is a crisis. It has been going on for about a year, and to my great regret, even Sharon's [Israel's Prime Minister] visit to Washington didn't resolve this crisis."
For some in the Bush Administration and the Pentagon, the attempted sale of sophisticated technology by Israel is further evidence that closer supervision of arms sales to foreign allies is long overdue and necessary. "We have our concerns about the sale and transfer of defense equipment and technology to China known to Israel," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters in June.
Primary US concerns surround the capability of Harpy Killer drones to destroy radar stations and anti-aircraft batteries similar to those used by Taiwan to defend against Chinese missiles and aircraft. Complicating the proposed sale, Israel claimed the drones were merely "refurbished," but initial US intelligence reports claim that new technology was incorporated in the drones.
Adding to US frustration was the recent indictment and arrest of Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin, who worked on the Pentagon's Iran desk, for allegedly supplying classified national defense information to a pro-Israel lobby group. Moreover, Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan's December visit to Israel, recognized as the most substantial visit by a Chinese official to Israel in several years, has raised concerns in Washington of a closer Sino-Israel bilateral relationship.
But beyond concerns related to the re-transfer of sophisticated technology, increased spying and visits by high-level Chinese officials, the attempted drone sale highlights concerns that a more independent Israel is determined to make its own mark on the world- questioning US authority more frequently in order to establish its own autonomous relations with other countries.
This desire for a more distant relationship was verified in June when U.S. officials requested that Israel remove four senior defense officials over the attempted sale including Amos Yaron, director-general of the Defense Ministry and Yehiei Horev, head of the security branch at the ministry. On his way from Paris en route to Brussels, Yuval Steinitz called the demand "illegitimate" and "humiliating." In the past, this type of comment from a top Israeli official would have elicited a stern rebuke from Tel Aviv and a swift retraction -- not so today.
History of Conflict over Arms Sales
Although mutually supportive in many ways, the US-Israel bilateral relationship has been marked by intense, periodic controversies over violations of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the Foreign Assistance Act, as noted by U.S. officials. The most troubling aspect of these violations has been the apparent intermingling of protected US technology with Israeli exports to foreign countries such as China and India.
In the mid-1980's, the U.S. State Department Inspector General raised concerns regarding Israel's re-transfer of U.S. military hardware and technology without permission. The U.S. Attorney Generals Office cited, "a systematic and growing pattern of unauthorized transfers by the recipient [Israel] dating back to about 1983."
In 1999, the U.S. government pressured Israel to cancel a proposed sale of radar equipment to China by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). If delivered, the radar equipment would have allowed the China to view up to 60 aerial targets in all directions over a radius of 250 miles. A subsequent story by the Washington Post in April 2000 noted that U.S. officials were disturbed by the fact that the system was closely related to the US AWACS or airborne warning and control system. Israel was eventually forced to pay Beijing $350 million in compensation for the failed arms deal.
In response to concerns regarding the sale of advanced technologies, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Israel's defense industry in early 2005, cutting off financial and technical assistance for a number of weapons systems, including the F-35 aircraft, the Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile, and the Tactical High Energy Laser Project. Moreover, deliveries of night-vision equipment to Israel were indefinitely suspended.
Evolving Israeli Independence
Israel's leadership is genuinely disturbed by what it perceives as a Washington double standard, whereby the U.S. imposes sanctions on Israel for arms sales to China, but does very little to stop other countries such as France, Germany and Russia from selling arms and nuclear materials to countries like Iran.
Making matters worse, the Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported in June that the US asked the Israeli government to seek its approval on any arms sales to India and Singapore. This, in reaction to Israel's failed deal with China.