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Israel tries to defuse arms sale dispute with U.S.

Reuters | June 14, 2005
By Megan Goldin

Israel is trying to defuse a festering dispute over longstanding U.S. opposition to its arms sales to China and faces new U.S. demands for closer oversight of weapons deals with India, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.

The affair has strained security ties between Israel and the United States, its main ally and provider of about $2 billion in annual defense aid, at a time when it seeks U.S. assistance to help implement its planned withdrawal from Gaza this August.

"There is a crisis that has been going on for almost a year," Yuval Steinitz, head of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel Radio.

Israel's Haaretz daily reported the United States recently suspended several weapons and technology projects with Israel, moves which the newspaper said deepened the dispute that erupted last year over Israeli-supplied Harpy attack drones to China.

Israeli defense officials denied the report but said that Washington, seeking better supervision of Israeli arms sales to countries the United States deems problematic, now wants Israel to obtain advance approval for any weapons deals with India.

Washington has for months refused to talk with the Israeli team trying to negotiate a resolution to the dispute, prompting Israel recently to appoint a new official to head the discussions.

The official, Zvi Stauber, was in Washington last week where he began to draw up a memorandum of understandings over future Israeli arms sales.

BALANCE OF POWER

The Pentagon fears the Harpy and other advanced Israeli technology sold to China could tilt the balance of power and make it more difficult to defend Taiwan, which Beijing deems a renegade province.

The dispute played a role in the U.S. decision in April to suspend Israel from involvement in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) project.

Stauber takes over the negotiations from Defense Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron. Pentagon officials have for months refused to hold talks with Yaron who they accuse of misleading them over arms sales to China, an Israeli source said.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Yaron might be forced to end his term due to the U.S. backlash. Washington torpedoed Israel's multi-billion dollar sale of Phalcon strategic airborne radar systems to China in 2000, citing concerns it could upset the regional balance of power.

The United States now has similar concerns with regard to weapons sales to India.

Steinitz said Israel should take into consideration U.S. sensitivities on arms sales to China but not to India, which he said could never be considered a potential U.S. enemy.

He said that in return for Israel curtailing weapons sales, Washington should also cut back on weapons transfers to Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

"Relations with the U.S. are important and critical to Israel ... but at the same time Israel must uphold its independence and there should be some type of reciprocity in (defense) relations," he said.

Steinitz said some Israeli officials believe U.S. attempts to limit Israeli arms sales stemmed from a desire to ensure U.S. defense contractors competing with Israeli firms won lucrative international contracts.

 

 

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