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China arms deal at root of Israel-U.S. dispute

By Aluf Benn, 04/02/2000, Ha'aretz

 

As Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak waits for U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen to arrive tomorrow, he is leaning toward carrying through the large arms deal between Israel and China, despite the tremendous American pressure on him to cancel the deal.

China purchased an early warning aircraft (AWACS) from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), which incorporates an advanced Israeli-made radar with a Russian-made transport aircraft. While the first such aircraft is being built, options for other aircraft involve several hundreds of millions of dollars. The Defense Ministry believes that Beijing is interested in exercising its option to acquire more early warning aircraft.

Government sources said on the weekend that Israel has a "vital interest" in close ties with China, both because it is an up-and-coming superpower, and also because of its links with Iran and other Gulf states.

Barak has not yet decided how to present his position to Cohen in view of the opposition the secretary of defense is expected to raise to the China deal. Chinese president Jiang Zemin is expected to arrive on his first state visit to Israel next week and his itinerary includes a tour of IAI.

Israel's China policy has become the sorest point in relations with Washington during Barak's tenure in office. The U.S. argues that transfering advanced military technology to China upsets the balance of power between China and Taiwan and may present a threat to American forces in east Asia.

Washington has transmitted this message to Israel through every available channel, including government officials, Congressmen and key figures in the American defense establishment.

The Prime Minister's Office announced that "we take very seriously what the Americans are saying. The issue is being examined on various levels and a decision has not yet been made." However, the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry seem to have differing opinions on the matter, with the former supporting the deal while the diplomatic service believes that Israel's relations with the United States must be given preference.

Observers feel that behind Barak's tendency to support the Defense Ministry's position lies a belief that Israel is less sensitive to American pressure in light of the stalemate in the negotiations with Syria. There had been concerns in Jerusalem that the U.S. Congress would demand that Israel cancel its deal with China in return for the aid package Barak requested as part of the process of withdrawing from the Golan Heights following a peace agreement with Syria. Israel also has reason to be optimistic because Taiwan's newly elected government is taking steps to lessen tensions with China.

 

� copyright 2000 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved



Source: http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=14&datee=04/02/00&id=74066


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