Strange Bedfellows: China and Israel
By Eric S. Margolis 16 April 2000
The first-ever visit by a Chinese head of state to Israel last week seemed at first glance rather curious. China, a longtime political and military supporter of the Arabs and Iran, used to denounce Israel as a `running dog of US imperialism' and `a racist-fascist state?' So what was President Jiang Zemin doing hobnobbing in Israel?
Jiang had two objectives: a. deepen the secret 20-year military relationship between China and Israel; b. by openly befriending Israel, counteract growing anti-Chinese feeling in Congress that threatens both China's exports to the US, and its admission to the World Trade Organization. . .
The normally pro-Israeli Clinton Administration, however, is not pleased. William Cohen, the US Secretary of Defense, recently unleashed an unprecedented public blast at Israel for selling advanced military technology to China that could threaten American forces in the event of a clash with China over Taiwan.
Cohen demanded Israel cancel the US $1-2 billion sale of 3-5 AWACS airborne radar aircraft to China. Israel refused, though it may only sell China one of the Russian aircraft equipped with an Israeli `Phalcon' advanced radar/electronic warfare system, developed from the US `Hawkeye' AWACS system, at least until the heat subsides
Former CIA Director James Woolsey testified Israel has covertly sold `several billions' of dollars worth of top-secret US technology to China since 1983. The Inspector General of the US State Department found, in a 1992 report, a `systematic and growing pattern' of Israel selling American military technology in direct violation of US law. That report concluded Israel was supplying arms based on restricted American technology to China, Chile, Ethiopia, and South Africa, all of whom then under US arms embargo.
The Pentagon has claimed since the mid-1980's that Israel simply copies or reverse engineers secret US defense technology and then exports it - even on occasion, its is whispered, to Russia. Until now, Israel's influential friends on Capitol Hill managed to downplay or cover up these serious charges.
The transfer of billions worth of advanced US military technology to Israel, under the innocuous title of `Technical Data Packages,' was arranged by Israel's American supporters, beginning in 1970. This massive infusion of secret US weapons and electronics technology- the largest ever to another nation - allowed Israel to develop state-of-the art military industries that exported some $1.5-2 billion annually (40% of its total exports by the late 1980's), and which became the nation's largest employer. Israel is now the world's sixth largest arms exporter. In some cases, Israel improved on US weapons and electronics systems.
Pentagon sources charge Israel `backdoored' US technology to China for the Patriot AA missile, other surface-to-air missiles; the PL-8 air-to-air missiles; C-802 anti-ship missiles; advanced composite tank armor and tank guns; aircraft avionics and ground radar systems; and the J-10 fighter, which is based on secret US technology used in Israel's cancelled `Lavi' fighter. Israel denies these charges. A Pentagon investigation of the Patriot sale, cleared Israel. Critics charged it did so under intense political pressure from Israel's supporters.
Israel insists its high-tech arms exports are all 100% of Israeli origin. But American defense claim the Israelis often only make minor modifications to basic US-supplied technology and weapons, then sell them clandestinely. Israeli intelligence agents are known to have targeted specific advanced US defense technology.
Israel has also sold considerable quantities of arms, electronics, and US technology to Taiwan, including a reverse-engineered US Lance missile, and anti-ship missiles. Singapore is another major recipient of Israeli arms and discreetly co-produces weapons with Israel. Israel has become a major military supplier to India, including nuclear weapons and missile technology.
Ironically, some of Israel's arms and technology sales have returned to haunt the Jewish state. This column learned in 1994 that nuclear technology Israel had bartered for enriched uranium to South Africa, was resold by South Africa to Iraq in exchange for oil. Iraq's infant nuclear program, designed as a counter-force to Israel's nuclear arms, thus originated, in part, from Israel. Missile technology sold by Israel to China found its way into tactical missiles sold by China to Iran, Syria, and Iraq, and, reportedly, into CSS-2 ballistic missiles sold by China to Saudi Arabia.
American defense and state department officials are furious at Israel for so flagrantly violating the US embargo of high-tech arms to China, particularly as tensions between Washington and Beijing rise. There have even been angry demands in Congress for the value of the Israeli AWACS aircraft sold to China to be deducted from the $3-5 billion in aid Israel receives annually from the US. Fears are being expressed that US technology for Israel's new `Arrow' anti-missile system, developed with nearly $1 billion in US aid, may also be sold to China.
Israelis claim their weapons sales to China motivate Beijing to keep a leash on its ally, North Korea, which, says Israelis, ships missiles to Iran and the Arabs. Russia remains China's main arms supplier. Sales by Israel keep Russia and China apart, say Israeli partisans. Nonsense, retorts the Pentagon. But in an election year, New York City is far more important than China. So Israel will probably only get its wrists slapped - if that.
Copyright eric margolis april 2000