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How U.S. Arms Transfers to Israel Come Back to Haunt Both Allies By Jonathan Reingold

As Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "Operation Defensive Wall"
continues and Secretary of State Colin Powell seeks to cool tensions in
the region, Americans need to know how involved they already are in the
Middle East.

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. Recently, questions have been raised
about the extent to which U.S. military aid is abetting human rights
abuses by Israeli forces operating on 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

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 is an intern for the Arms Trade Resource Center (ATRC). To contact him and/or receive ATRC updates visit or e-mail ATRC Research Associate Ms. Frida Berrigan at:

Jonathan Reingold

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

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