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INTL News by Joe Broadhurst - Israeli Defense Official Hints at Gravity of Crisis with U.S. and China; Neo-con Drama...
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Source: Israeli Defense Official Hints at Gravity of Crisis with U.S. and China; Neo-con Drama...
Defense Ministry director general Amos Yaron caused an uproar in the Knesset's Foreign Affair and Defense Committee on Wednesday morning after he refused to provide details regarding a conflict between Israel and the United States over a large-scale arms deal with China.
Media reports indicate that Israel failed to report to the U.S. the full details concerning the sale of Harpy assault drones to China. As a result, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith demanded Yaron's resignation, and refused to have anything to do with him.
After MKs Yossi Sarid (Yahad) and Uri Ariel (National Union) asked Yaron to provide the committee with details of the affair, he refused to elaborate, saying that he was afraid that details would be leaked to the media, exacerbating the diplomatic row.
Committee members demanded that its chairman, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), stop the meeting, but he refused. Four MKs -- Sarid, Ariel, Aryeh Eldad (National Union) and Majali Wahabi (Likud) -- stormed out of the room in protest.
Sarid, responding to Yaron's request that the committee members rely on his good faith, said that he was not accustomed to trusting anyone blindly. He said that the burden of proof was on Yaron, as the crisis involved Israel's most trusted allies, the Americans. "If such friend do not trust you, who will?" Sarid asked the Director General
Reporting that Yaron told them that "the problem will be solved because it has to be solved," Sarid complained that such an answer is "ridiculous and insulting."
Echo of the past, grim prospect for the future
The Harpy case echoes a previous crisis that arose between the U.S. and Israel over sales to China. In a similar case, Israel went ahead with a plan to sell a flying radar plane known as the Phalcon to China, but the U.S. vetoed the sale. In the end, Israel had to pay China $350 million for defaulting on the deal.
The current crisis also involves a similar arms-trading geopolitical conflict. After several drones purchased and used by the Chinese were sent back to Israel for repair and/or upgrading, the U.S. demanded that Israel not return them to China. The U.S. insists that Israel breach its contract with China, which has already introduced the drones into its armed forces.
Haaretz reported on Dec. 22 that "the Israelis who heard the demand were astonished, considering there is no American technology in the drones. However, American sources say Israel will have no choice but to comply with the U.S. demand. The powerful pro-Taiwan lobby is warning that advanced Israeli weapons technologies could be used against U.S. soldiers defending the island state off the coast of China."
Haaretz added that the crisis erupted after Feith learned that Israel, after selling the drones in the mid-1990s, was upgrading the unmanned airborne vehicles for the Chinese. Feith, a "neo-con" considered as a strong supporter of Israel, was furious and backed by his superior, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, another ardent Israel supporter in the administration.
Debkafile: 3-way crisis with grave implications
Chinese deputy prime minister, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, flew in to Israel Saturday night, December 25. Although he had diplomatic meetings with Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian interim President Mahmoud Abbas, media reports indicate that his mission includes recovery of the drones
After the Phalcon experience, Debkafile reports, "Beijing will not accept monetary compensation. The drones must be returned. Sold to Beijing several years ago, they now bear Chinese military markings. Withholding the craft is tantamount to illegal seizure of a Chinese weapons system and will bring down on the Jewish state serious reprisals." In addition, media reports indicate that Chinese-Israeli diplomatic relations and the interests of Israeli firms operating in China would be adversely affected.
DEBKAfile reports that "Beijing hit the ceiling when it learned that the White House had exacerbated the Chinese drone crisis by shifting it from lower Pentagon ranks to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld in person. The file was also passed to the Senate Armed Services Committee."
As Debkafile notes, the implications for Israel are grave indeed. "The entire complex of US-Israel defense ties is now up for review in the light of Israel?s compliance with or defiance of Washington?s demand to withhold the Chinese UAVs. Putting the case before the Senate Committee invites a review of US appropriations to Israel, including military aid, in the full realization that delayed transfers would cause Israel severe financial damage. President George W. Bush thus signals that he would not be averse to a senate committee reprimand of Israel and posts a hands-off sign to Israel?s Capitol Hill lobbyists."
Debkafile suggests that the problems might have been avoided if the Sharon government had not neglected it for months. "The decision-makers in Jerusalem and the defense establishment in Tel Aviv knew the crisis was brewing last August. But they let it ride for four months, hoping for the best, because of their total immersion in extinguishing the domestic fires lit by prime minister Ariel Sharon?s evacuation plan."
PM Sharon's acceptance this week of an invitation by Tang Jiaxuan to visit Beijing may not suffice to solve the crisis in relations. It remains to be seen how far the Americans are willing to go in squeezing Israel to default on another deal with the Chinese.