Our friends the Chinese

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Last Thursday it was reported that the US is suspending cooperation with Israel on the Arrow-2 missile defense system. If accurate, as the Middle East Newsline report noted, this will be the latest in a series of recent blows to US-Israel military cooperation, following the US decision not to fund the joint Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser project. That project, geared toward shooting down short-range rockets, missiles and mortars, is of utmost importance to Israel in light of the 10,000 rockets that Hizbullah has amassed in Lebanon and the ever-increasing Palestinian rocket and mortar capabilities.

 

Both decisions come on the heels of last month's decision by the Pentagon to drop Israel from the design process of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – the next generation of US fighter jets that are set for delivery in 2012. The IAF views the F-35 as its fighter of choice for the future.

 

A source quoted by MENL explained the rationale for the encroaching US boycott: "It's all about China." The source went on to explain, "The Pentagon, with full support of the administration, does not want to deal with Israeli products or technology that could be sent to China."

 

No doubt the Pentagon decision-makers conducted cost-benefit analyses of American weapons technology sharing and development with Israel, compared to the dangers to US national security interests emanating from China, before taking these drastic steps. Those analyses clearly led them to the conclusion that the dangers from China outweigh the benefits of collaboration with Israel.

 

THE US has good reason to be concerned about China. Even as the US seeks to engage China, the fact of the matter is that China views the US as its primary opponent, and has built much of its foreign policy around curbing and weakening the US globally. China is spurred both by its global power aspirations and by its voracious and growing appetite for oil.

 

In 1993, China became a net importer of oil. Today it imports some 2 million barrels of oil a day. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2030 it will import 10 million barrels per day, equaling the current levels of US oil imports. To meet its exponentially growing needs, China has cultivated close ties with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Chinese oil imports from Iran increased by a factor of 155 between 1994 and 2002, and its imports from Saudi Arabia increased by a factor of 77 over the same period.

 

Writing in the current issue of The Middle East Quarterly, Dan Blumenthal, who served as the Pentagon's country director for China and Taiwan from 2002-2004, explains that for Iran and Saudi Arabia, the real impetus for doing business with the Chinese involves Beijing's willingness to sell them ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

 

Teheran has purchased Chinese anti-ship missiles, some of which, like the C-107 missile, were specially designed for its needs. For their part, Blumenthal argues, the Chinese have an interest in selling the Iranians these missiles because they wish to harm the US Navy's ability to protect and control shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf, and particularly in the Straits of Hormuz.

 

The Chinese played a major role in Iran's development of the Shihab-3 ballistic missile, which is capable of hitting Israel. And, as Blumenthal notes, the Chinese assisted the Iranian nuclear weapons program by supplying Teheran with a uranium conversion facility and nuclear power reactors.

 

The Saudis have received Chinese intermediate range ballistic missiles with a range of 3,000 km. After the US vacated its bases in Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2003, Chinese military personnel reportedly quietly moved in.

 

Fox News military commentator John Loftus explained Sunday that China uses nuclear proliferation as a way of containing the US and its allies as well as Chinese competitors. As he explained, China has played a major role in building the Pakistani, Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs. The Pakistani bomb is used to contain India; the North Korean program is used to contain Japan; and the Iranian nuclear program is used to contain the US.

 

And in the midst of all of this Chinese wheeling and dealing, here is Israel, with its one friend in the world – the US – and its world-class military industries, insisting on selling advanced weapons systems to the Chinese. Indeed, Israel is the second-largest arms seller to the Chinese, after Russia.

 

The Harpy unmanned aerial vehicles which Israel sold the Chinese in 1999 (after receiving a green light from the oddly pro-Chinese Clinton administration) and is reportedly now upgrading, can loiter in the air for hours and then attack radar used to guide air and missile defense systems. These systems, and others that Israel has sold China, can be used against US forces sent to the China Sea to defend Taiwan against Chinese attack.

 

OVER THE past few years, Israeli defense officials have defended Israeli military sales to China in various ways. The most convincing justification is that export markets are necessary to ensure the economic viability of the Israeli military industries. These industries are vital to ensure Israel's qualitative edge over the Arab armies. And this qualitative edge is eroded by the massive US military sales to the Arabs. In short, the Israeli excuse is that the Americans reap what they sow.

 

The problem is that the Americans aren't the only ones who reap the whirlwind. Our reckless bureaucrats in the Defense Ministry, who insist on continuing to allow Israeli military exports to China, are harming Israel's national security twice. First, they are advancing the military fortunes of China, which, by selling missile and nuclear technologies to our enemies, is contributing to the largest looming existential threat to the country. Second, by arming China, Israel is systematically eroding its strategic partnership with America.

 

Jin Liangxiang, a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, also writing in the Spring issue of The Middle East Quarterly, threatens that if Israel buckles under US pressure and cancels its deal to upgrade the Harpy UAVs, the Chinese will likely respond by "launch[ing] sanctions on Israeli enterprises not only on the Chinese mainland, but also in Hong Kong."

 

The time has come for Israel to conduct its own cost-benefit analysis. What is more important, our business relationship with the state that is arming our sworn enemies with nuclear weapons and delivery systems, or our strategic relationship with the country that is working to deny them both?

 

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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