U.S., Israel Still At Odds Over China Arms Sale, Pentagon Spy

Christian Science Monitor - July 29, 2005

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz cancelled a recent trip to Washington over new US demands that it be allowed to oversee Israeli arms exports. Newsday reported Thursday that the new US demands are part of growing crisis over Israeli arms sales to China, according to Israeli officials.

Israeli and US officials have been working on negotiations about the weapons shipments, which had originally led to the US imposing sanctions on Israel, including "halting cooperation on several sensitive projects and freezing delivery of some military equipment. The US opposes the Harpy parts sale on the grounds it would upgrade China's anti-radar aircraft."

Mr. Mofaz was scheduled to come to Washington to work out the final details on an agreement that would have put new restrictions on Israeli arms sales to certain countries like China, but the trip was put on hold when the US also demanded a written apology signed by Mofaz, and that the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, pass new laws within 18 months that would tighten "oversight of military exports." Ha'aretz, which broke the story of the new US demands on Wednesday, reported that Israel believed that tensions between the two countries were going to lessen after the Mofaz trip to Washington. But the new demands, according to Ha'aretz, are "an indirect way" way to reject the request by the Israeli defense minister to end the crisis and lift the sanctions, which "have the potential to do serious harm to Israel's defense industries and air force."

The US is also apparently angry that media reports appear whenever the Israeli delegations leaves for talks in the US. The US sees the meetings as defense briefings, while Israeli media reports the meetings as talks to end the "crisis" over the Israel-China arms deals.

In an analysis for Ha'aretz Friday, Ze'ev Schiff, writes that the disagreement between the US and Israel is "a serious crisis that has spilled over into political and economic spheres," and signals a "crisis of confidence." Mr. Schiff writes that the important strategic dialogue between tghe two countries has "slowly evaporated over the past two years..."

The American side is broadcasting that it has been burned by Israel several times, and this time it has decided to be firm. Because they feel affronted, they are not taking into account the political situation in Israel, and are trying to dictate to the Knesset, in an insulting manner, a timetable for its decisions. An agreement is meant to end a crisis, and not to force a friendly nation to agree to be punished in stages. Even a banana republic would not sign such an agreement.

On the other hand, it is clear that the supervision of arms exports from Israel is deficient, and rests entirely in the hands of the security establishment. The political leadership is barely involved. The interministerial connection is defective, and even today the Defense Ministry does not keep the Foreign Ministry informed of the details of the negotiations with the Americans. Israeli custom officials do not have instructions regarding the export of products that are likely to be used for military purposes as well. Even without American pressure, the time has come to introduce order into defense exports from Israel.

Meanwhile, Arutz Sheva reported Thursday the FBI has requested an interview with a senior member of Israel's embassy in the Washington as part of the ongoing investigation into the actions of a Defense Department anaylyst and employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). (The two men involved in the case have left AIPAC.)

As that crisis snowballs, the FBI investigation of AIPAC seems to be turning toward employees of Israel's US Embassy. The FBI is demanding that Naor Gilon, head of the embassy's political department, be interrogated in connection to the case of Pentagon Iran expert Lawrence Franklin, who was caught in an FBI sting operation passing on classified material relating to Israeli security.

Embassy officials usually have immunity and are not allowed to be investigated by foreign countries regarding issues related to their work. Israel has offered the FBI the possibility that Gilon would respond to questions in writing. The FBI request indicates that Israel is now suspected of being involved in the Franklin case, which until now was portrayed as involving only the AIPAC Israel lobby group.

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