Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Media Watch: Simmering Dispute over Israeli AWACS Sale to China Strikes Sparks in Washington and Tel Aviv

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israeli Media Watch: Simmering Dispute over Israeli AWACS Sale to China Strikes Sparks in Washington and Tel Aviv

Article excerpt

ISRAELI MEDIA WATCH: Simmering Dispute Over Israeli AWACS Sale to China Strikes Sparks in Washington and Tel Aviv

By Nathan Jones

Nathan Jones is a free-lance writer specializing in Israeli and North American Jewish affairs.

Because of U.S. mainstream media reluctance to criticize Israel the U.S. public is sublimely unaware of it, but the Israeli press directed some harsh language against the United States in April and May. Israeli ire was provoked when President Bill Clinton summoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to the White House April 11. Barak wanted to talk about how many billions the U.S. would provide in "supplemental military aid" if Israel reached a peace agreement with Syria, or with Palestine. Instead, Israeli television said, Clinton was concerned "more than all the peace tracks combined" with an Israeli contract to sell China Israeli-assembled AWACS technology mounted on Chinese-owned Russian Ilyushin 17 aircraft.

As it has turned out, there will be no significant peace agreement on either track, but there may yet be an Israeli transfer of AWACS technology to China. Barak has talked vaguely about reducing the contract, which originally provided for between 4 and 10 aircraft, to the sale of only one. All this presumably would mean is that while only one Israeli-assembled prototype would be transferred to China, the remaining aircraft covered by the contract would be assembled in China by Israeli technicians using an AWACS pod and Israeli Phalcon early-warning equipment the U.S. says is modeled on U.S. and U.S.-funded technology. Here's what the Israeli media are saying about the U.S. attempt to exact some Israeli political cooperation in return for long-standing American military and economic support:

Wrote Israeli defense analyst Ze'ev Schiff in the April 14 Ha'aretz: "We can't ask Uncle Sam for $17 billion in foreign assistance (and we will now need an additional $300 million for the withdrawal from Lebanon) and, in the same breath, say that we are not prepared to consider how American vital interests will be impacted by a spy plane deal with China that will net us $220 million. For its part, Israel will have to demand, as a reciprocal gesture, greater American caution on all matters related to the sale of arms to the Arab states."

Suggested analyst Akiva Eldar in the April 19 Ha'aretz: "Our relations with the United States and the American Jewish community revolve around money, as if we were some European Jewish community whose inhabitants were all beggers instead of a country whose citizens are almost as affluent as the Britons...Israel can allow itself the luxury of removing the American taxpayer's money from our relationship with both the United States and the American Jewish community."

"The crisis is ruining the improvement in U.S.-Israeli ties."

More realistically, and candidly, Israeli military analyst Meir Shteiglitz wrote in the April 12 mass circulation Yediot Ahronot, "Israeli diplomacy has turned the task of playing the White House, Congress and Pentagon against each other into an art form. This time, however, Israel is up against a brick wall. No American looks favorably on our military ties with China...Sophisticated Israeli technologies sold to China may find their way to less hospitable, and geographically closer countries. While Israel may love to flirt with the Chinese Dragon in dark alleys, it still has to go back home with Uncle Sam. …

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