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[an error occurred while processing this directive] Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Analysis: The China connection
Barak and Clinton
Israel's arms sales to China may become a topic of conversation
By defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

There are growing concerns in the US about Israel's sales of sophisticated weaponry to Beijing.

The Chinese President Jiang Zemin will himself be visiting Israel on Wednesday, giving the issue added currency. However, Israel's arms sales to China highlight growing differences on how it should define its national interests.

Jiang Zemin
Jiang Zemin will visit Israel this week
Israel depends massively on American military aid, a significant proportion of which is spent in Israel to help bolster the country's own defence industries.

This aid is in many ways more important than ever. Washington is expected to underwrite any peace deal with Syria by granting Israel a massive package of additional military support.

But more generally significant changes are taking place in the field of military affairs as information technologies are applied to the battlefield, linked with new sensors and a dramatic increase in firepower.

Israel hopes to reap the benefits of this so-called military revolution.

To do so, it needs two things: help from the Americans on the one hand, and also its own high-technology defence industry on the other.

Squaring this circle will not be easy. Alienating Washington could have a price.

But Israel's arms manufacturers can only survive by exporting. There have been periodic concerns in Washington about Israeli technology transfers - especially to China - given the very close relationship between the Israeli arms industry and many of its US counterparts.

The issue has now come to a head over the sale of advanced airborne radar to China. A prototype system is already being fitted into a Chinese-supplied aircraft in Israel.

But the Chinese are said to want several more radar aircraft - planes which, according to the Pentagon, would give China a new capability to control any air war over the Taiwan Straits. The US wants further sales halted.

The Israeli prime minister is in a difficult position. He has to juggle the need to retain one of its most important customers - thereby helping to safeguard Israel's own arms industry - with the risk of alienating Israel's friends in Washington at a time when the Jewish state badly needs US support.

Squaring this circle will not be easy. Alienating Washington could have a price.

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See also:

02 Apr 00 | Middle East
Israel seeks US cruise missiles
03 Apr 00 | Middle East
US anger at Israeli arms sales
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