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Defense and Intelligence
Congress Calls for Sanctions If Israeli Technology Transfer to China Is Proven
by Shawn L. Twing
Two U.S. representatives announced in September that they would support congressional efforts to sanction U.S. aid to Israel if it is proven that Israel has retransferred sensitive U.S. technology to China. Floyd Spence (R-SC), chairman of the House National Security Committee, and Curt Weldon (R-Pa), chairman of the House national security military research and development subcommittee, both voiced their support for such measures after hearing a committee-sponsored discussion, led by Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Richard Fisher, of China’s military modernization program and its threat to U.S. and allied forces.
The comments by the two Republican congressmen follow years of almost completely unheeded allegations by government officials, defense industry executives and private-sector analysts that Israel has retransferred U.S. technology to China. The technology allegedly retransferred includes:
”¢ Cruise missile technology. Israel allegedly has helped China with several cruise missile systems, including its YJ-12A medium-range anti-ship cruise missile, its YJ-91 air-launched anti-radiation cruise missile, and the YJ-62 long-range anti-ship cruise missile. These missile systems are based primarily on Israel’s STAR-1 cruise missile which, according to American University professor and technology transfer specialist Duncan Clarke, “incorporates sensitive U.S. technology.” Israel also has marketed its Delilah cruise missile/unmanned aerial vehicle to China. The Delilah is believed to be a re-engineered version of an American system sold to Israel in the 1970s by Northrop, a U.S. defense firm.
”¢ Air-to-air missile technology. Israel has sold China its Python-3 short-range air-to-air missile which China has renamed the PL-8. According to Clarke, the Python-3 is a re-engineered version of the U.S.-made AIM-9L “Sidewinder” and also incorporates a significant amount of U.S. technology.
”¢ ATBM technology. Following the Gulf war and the stationing of U.S. Patriot missile batteries in Israel, allegations were made that Israel had retransferred Patriot missile technology to China. A subsequent U.S. State Department investigation concluded that although the claim could not be refuted, there was no physical evidence to substantiate it. The Israelis used this narrow finding as a public relations tool to discount allegations of technology retransfer in general. It is now widely believed that Israel sold technical data about the Patriot system to China, but not physical components of the system.
”¢ The Lavi fighter. China unveiled earlier this year its developmental F-10 fighter, which U.S. intelligence reports have suggested is modeled after Israel’s discontinued Lavi aircraft. The physical characteristics of the F-10, which looks strikingly like the Lavi, have substantiated those reports. The Lavi was the first large-scale attempt at U.S.-Israeli “strategic cooperation,” and it was supposed to provide Israel with an indigenously produced advanced fighter designed to meet Israel’s operational needs. The Lavi was funded almost exclusively by the United States, which provided $1.5 billion before the program was abandoned by Israel, under intense U.S. pressure, in 1986. It incorporates U.S. technology from some 730 U.S. defense firms and has given China a dramatic leap forward for its indigenous military aircraft development program. Israel denies that any U.S. technology was retransferred to China via the Lavi fighter, a statement that most U.S. analysts find hard to believe, given the enormous amount of U.S. technology present in the Lavi.
Aside from Israel’s clandestine military relationship with China, Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) currently is marketing its Phalcon airborne early warning (AEW) system to China in competition with the British defense firm GEC-Marconi. China’s acquisition of an AEW system would provide a dramatic advance in China’s operational abilities and would, according to Richard Fisher, “significantly erode the military technical edge held by the U.S. and Taiwan that is necessary for deterring China.”
Aside from the general dangers of China acquiring an advanced Western AEW system, IAI’s Phalcon is particularly dangerous. The Phalcon uses a phased-array radar, which means that its radar signals are steered electronically, rather than with a large rotating disk of the kind used on its Western counterparts. The acquisition of this type of radar by China could, according to Fisher, result in secondary uses of the technology that would aid in the development of better missile defense systems and over-the-horizon radar for China’s warships. These would provide China with two operational leaps forward that the United States and its allies certainly do not want to confront.
Repercussions for the United States
Israel’s willingness to aid China’s military development program both overtly and covertly could lead to serious challenges to U.S. forces in the Pacific. In March of this year, China held large-scale military exercises that included the provocative firing of nuclear-capable missiles across the north and south shipping lanes that connect Taiwan to the rest of the world. The United States responded with the largest show of American naval force off the coast of China since the 1950s. It included two U.S. carrier battle groups and an Aegis-class missile cruiser.
Every advance in China’s military modernization program makes it more difficult for American forces present in the region to deter Chinese military aggression. By aiding this development, Israel is responsible for putting American service men and women in harm’s way. Advanced aircraft, missile technology and advanced radar systems have the dual effect of giving China more confidence to challenge U.S. forces, and improving China’s capabilities to do so.
Another lesson learned during the March 1996 missile exercises was that China has modified its DF-15 missiles to make them harder for Patriot missiles to intercept. In a report entitled “China’s Missiles Over the Taiwan Strait: A Political and Military Assessment,” Richard Fisher points out that modifications made to the DF-15 not only made them harder to intercept, but also improved their accuracy by 100 percent. U.S. analysts believe that Israel provided the information used to make those modifications.
There also are ripple effects for U.S. military policy in other parts of the globe. According to sources cited in Fisher’s reports, Pentagon planners now are reluctant to send the USS Independence and its battle group to the Middle East, fearing that its absence from the Pacific could lead to recklessness on the part of China or North Korea. Saddam Hussain’s September excursion into northern Iraq and Iran’s military modernization program made it clear that American military planners need all of the assets they can get in this potentially volatile region. Removing a significant component of American military might from availability for the Gulf is a serious blow to such planning.
Repercussions for Israel
Israel’s military aid to China is blatantly short-sighted for Israel’s own security. China enjoys significant military relationships with many of Israel’s enemies, including Syria, Iraq and Iran, and provides them with weaponry that could be used against Israel in the future. Recipients of Chinese weaponry include:
”¢ Syria. It has been reported that Syria received a shipment of Chinese missile parts last year to support Syria’s impressive array of tactical missiles. Tensions between Israel and Syria heightened in September after a mutual buildup of forces around the Golan Heights, which demonstrated how quickly relations between the two countries can deteriorate. Chinese support for Syria’s missile program hardly adds to Israel’s security.
”¢ Iraq. According to Duncan Clarke, American forces discovered thermal imaging sights in Iraqi tanks that had been provided by China to Iraq. Indisputably, they were American tank sights illegally sold by Israel to China. This is one of the few cases where tangible evidence of illegal Israeli arms transfers was captured by U.S. forces on the battlefield, obviously a rarity in technology transfer allegations. In this case Israeli actions put American lives in jeopardy. In the future, other technology received from Israel by China and subsequently sold to Iraq could be used against Israel.
”¢ Iran. In September, Iran signed a $4.5 billion military aid agreement with China which includes Iranian purchases of advanced missiles, naval vessels, aircraft and other unspecified military hardware. This is in addition to 10 Chinese missile boats already delivered to Iran in 1995-1996, as well as an unknown quantity of advanced C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles.
For many U.S. analysts the Israel-China-Iran military triangle is completely baffling. On one hand, Israel is the principal instigator of efforts to encourage the United States and its allies to punish Iran and limit its abilities to conduct terrorist operations and modernize its military. On the other hand, Israel is providing crucial military technology to one of Iran’s two largest sources (with Russia) of military hardware.
Israel’s multifaceted military assistance program to China is a direct threat not only to American national security interests, but also to Israel’s own security interests. In the past, Congress has ignored the substantial and growing body of evidence pointing to the clandestine Israeli role in transferring both American and Israeli military technology to China, but it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore. In some respects the U.S. government’s attitude toward this relationship is analogous to the U.S. government’s treatment of Israel’s nuclear program over the years. Until Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu provided 56 photographs to the London Sunday Times depicting the workings of Israel’s Dimona nuclear research facility, including its bomb-making facilities, the United States had been happy to pretend that such a program did not exist.
China’s unveiling of the F-10 is much like Vanunu’s photographs. Pictured side by side with the Lavi, it is obvious that the two aircraft are nearly identical structurally. This, combined with all of the previous evidence of other Israeli weapons sales and technology retransfer, has forced the United States to confront the Israel-China military relationship. This does not mean, however, that serious U.S. action will be taken. Recognizing this, Representatives Spence and Weldon have suggested publicly that the matter should be investigated and, if conclusive evidence is found, action be taken to punish Israel. In fact, however, the evidence has existed for years, and has been offered to members of Congress by various U.S. intelligence agencies, by the Pentagon, and by an inspector-general of the Department of State. Now the question is, what will Congress do about it?