The spy plane isn't the only problemBy Ze'ev Schiff, Ha'aretz Wednesday, June 21, 2000
The sharp disagreement between the United States and Israel over the latter's planned sale of an espionage plane to China also has a personal angle. American Defense Secretary William Cohen has apparently been deeply offended by the attitude of Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.During his visit here in early April, Cohen argued that the sale of the aircraft to China could jeopardize vital American security interests. According to those of his close aides who were present at the talks between Cohen and Barak, the defense secretary left Israel feeling both frustrated and humiliated and with the distinct sense that the persons he talked to in Israel about this matter were taking his position far too lightly. Although Barak, of course, had no intention of offending Cohen, he is giving the impression that, in dealing with this sensitive issue, he is interested solely in quick-fix solutions and is ignoring the fact that a matter of principle is involved in this deal.
The head of the U.S. Congress's House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Sonny Callaghan, recently proposed that, if it goes ahead with the spy plane deal, Israel should be penalized by having $250 million sliced off the foreign aid it receives from Uncle Sam. That proposal has fallen by the wayside thanks to the intervention of the administration. However, the extent of the bitterness that Washington currently harbors toward Israel can be gauged by Callaghan's latest proposal that Israel not receive the entire amount of American aid at the beginning of the year. If this proposal is implemented, Israel would lose approximately one hundred million dollars in interest.
The resentment felt toward Israel crosses partisan and even ethnic lines. Even members of the Jewish lobby are either maintaining stony silence or criticizing Israel's behavior on this issue. In fact, not one of Israel's friends in America has come out with a statement justifying Israel's position.
This time around, the administration is naming names, explicitly pointing an accusing finger at two senior officials of Israel's defense establishment who, in the eyes of the administration, bear most of the responsibility for the present rift. Senior American officials are branding Israel's behavior vis-a-vis Washington arrogant.
The dispute is slowly spreading beyond the parameters of the China spy plane deal. The Americans are now saying that attention should be given not only to the deal itself but to the whole issue of the advanced technologies that Israel is selling or may sell in the future to nations that are, from Washington's perspective, "sensitive." In other words, even if the spy plane dispute is settled, the entire issue of advanced technologies will still be on the agenda. Thus, Israel has wandered onto an elephant path - that is, a path used by the elephants, the superpowers, of the world - and this is a place where less powerful creatures are bound to get hurt.
Some in Israel deeply resent the American demand that the deal with China be scotched. The United States, they say, is not only urging Israel to cancel a deal with an important nation, with which Washington itself has cut strategic arms deals, but is going much further, presenting Israel with a demand that no other country has been asked to accept: American supervision of the sales of advanced Israeli technologies. Such an arrangement would strike a mortal blow to Israel's military industries, maintain these critics.
Israeli thinking on this subject is essentially colored by the argument that Washington's demands are actually the result of pressure from American arms manufacturers who are absolutely furious over the large sales volume of Israeli weapons. Recently, Israel has announced that it intends to increase the sales of the products of its military industries to a level of some three to four billion dollars annually. This kind of sales activity is important for the maintenance of our quality edge, Israeli defense officials have explained, and goes beyond commercial interest.
Naturally, this kind of approach has fed American suspicions. For its part, the United States is responding that the issue of "sensitive" technologies cannot be divorced from the overall issue of the strategic relationship between the two countries. The Israelis have presented to Washington certain demands, which, they argue, must be met in the event of a total withdrawal from the the Golan Heights. According to the Americans, what we are in fact asking for is the "crown jewel" of America's advanced technologies.
What the Americans are basically saying to the Israelis is: "If we supply you with this 'crown jewel,' as you are demanding, do we not have the right to stipulate under what conditions we will transfer these technologies as well as the right to tell you what dangerous waters you should avoid?"
If Israel does not want to hear comments to the effect that it may be jeopardizing vital American interests, it should withdraw the strategic demands it is currently making. Moreover, Israelis tend to forget that the United States has, on numerous occasions, declared its commitment to maintaining Israel's qualitative edge; now, when the shoe is on the other foot and the Americans are asking that we consider their security interests, we are laughing in their face.
Washington is denying that it is demanding the right to veto Israeli sales of advanced technologies. It claims that it is only asking for the right of prior consultation - namely, that Israel consult with Washington before cutting any deals involving advanced technologies. Granted, Israel has developed several advanced technologies on its own; however, the Americans are arguing that many of those technologies are based on what we have learned from them and actually constitute our upgrading of made-in-the-USA technologies.
The essential question to be asked is whether Washington is demanding the right to veto Israeli weapons deals or is simply asking for the privilege of prior friendly consultation. An important acid test as to the Americans' position on this issue will be the degree to which they themselves will be willing to consult with Israel before any deals are cut for the sale of advanced American weaponry to the Arab states. Such consultations would be needed in order to assure us that the deal in question will not undermine Washington's commitment to maintaining our qualitative edge. The Americans' response to Israel's demand for such consultations is that they, in any case, consult with us before cutting deals of that nature. However, that reply is not one hundred percent accurate. On many occasions, we have heard about an Americans arms deal to an Arab state only after the fact or else we ourselves were the ones who discovered that such a deal had been made