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US Arms Sales to Israel End Up In China/Iraq

9 May 2002

Bill Clinton spoke at Hunter College in New York on Tuesday, challenging President Bush to send American troops as part of an international peacekeeping force to the Middle East. What many Americans don't know is that U.S. forces might as well be there already.

From 1990 to 2000 U.S. military aid to Israel totaled over $18 billion. No other nation in the world has such a close relationship with the U.S. military and arms industry.

The UN, Amnesty International and other groups have raised questions about the extent the to which U.S. military aid is abetting human rights abuses by Israeli forces operating in the West Bank. These debates will no doubt continue for some time. In the mean time, however, there is another aspect of the American-Israeli relationship that may have an even greater impact on U.S. and Israeli security in the long run: the ongoing transfer of American arms technology from Israel to potential U.S. (and Israeli) adversaries around the globe.

From the most sophisticated warplanes to tank engines, artillery systems and armored vehicles, the United States is Israel's one-stop shopping center. Last year alone the U.S. sold one hundred top-of-the-line F-16s to Israel for a total of over $3 billion. That same year Israel purchased 9 of the newest Apache helicopter version equipped with the Longbow Radar system. The helicopter-buying spree didn't end with the Apaches. Israel bought fifteen Cobra attack helicopters last year along with twenty-four Black Hawk transport helicopters.

Besides selling aircraft, the United States is also Israel's preferred vendor for missiles. Although Israel has designed its own version of the U.S. air-to-air AIM9 sidewinder missile, the Python 3, it still relies on the U.S. for its ground attack technology. Two years ago Lockheed Martin sold Israel approximately 80 AGM-142D Popeye air-to-surface missiles. Israel also buys the AGM65 Maverick air-to-surface missile produced by Hughes and Raytheon.

In addition, the U.S. sells Israel the engines for its "indigenous" Merkava main battle tank. In 1999 Israel purchased 400 power packs for their Merkava fleet. The Merkava was developed by Israel so that it wouldn't have to rely on "fickle" countries like Britain, France or Russia when it was in the midst of a conflict.

Transactions between the U.S. and Israel are not necessarily worrisome by themselves; after all, as Israel has proved, there are a host of countries willing to sell the weapons it needs. Currently, Germany is Israel's source for submarines, and if Israel really needed fighters, Russia is always looking to make a buck and always seems to have a surfeit of aircraft and other excess defense articles.

The real danger comes in Israel's habit of reverse engineering U.S. technology and selling to nations hostile to U.S. interests. Israel's client list includes Cambodia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the South Lebanon Army, India, China, Burma and Zambia. The U.S. has most recently warmed up to India and is now in fact competing with Israel for arms sales there, but the other Israeli customers remain dubious at best.

Perhaps the most troubling of all is the Israeli/Chinese arms relationship. Israel is China's second largest supplier of arms. Coincidentally, the newest addition to the Chinese air force, the F-10 multi-role fighter, is an almost identical version of the Lavi (Lion). The Lavi was a joint Israeli-American design based upon the F-16 for manufacture in Israel, but financed mostly with American aid. Plagued by cost overruns, it was canceled in 1987, but not before the U.S. spent $1.5 billion on the project.

Last April, when the Navy EP-3E surveillance plane was forced to land in China after a Chinese F-8 fighter flew into its propeller, photos show Israeli built Python 3 missiles under the fighter's wings.

If Israeli weapons sales to China induce misgivings, including the most recent U.S. blocked sale of Israel's Phalcon airborne radar, the beneficiaries of Chinese arms transfers of Israeli-American technology are even more disturbing. In 1996, as disclosed in the UN Register of Conventional Arms, China sold over 100 missiles and launchers to Iran, along with a handful of combat aircraft and warships. Even worse, in 1997 the New York Daily News reported that Iraq had deployed Israeli-developed, Chinese PL-8 missiles in the no-fly zones, endangering American pilots.

Americans deserve to know where their money is being spent, and how money allocated for friends and technology shared with friends can all too easily end up in the wrong hands, threatening all parties involved. At a minimum, discussions on a new security framework for the Middle East should include plans to monitor and restrict Israeli transfers of U.S.-origin military equipment to potential adversaries. Otherwise, this deadly technology could come back to haunt U.S. and Israeli forces in future conflicts.

Jonathan Reingold, Research Associate, Arms Trade Resource Center, World Policy Institute
Published by © Jonathan Reingold

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