Wed, May 03, 2000 - Page 9 News List

US must work with Israel, not against it

The US' failure to prevent a major Israeli military sale to China is regrettable, but not detrimental to the US' relationship with its Middle East ally.

By Christopher McIntosh

Recent events have placed the US at a crossroads in their foreign policy priorities toward the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific. US opposition to Israeli arms sales to China is creating tension in the US-Israel "special relationship." But backing off on the issue of Israeli sales could leave Taiwan's new government facing a more menacing Chinese threat. The administration faces a dilemma -- neither Taiwanese nor Israeli interests can be written off easily. How the Clinton Administration deals with this tension will have profound effects on our strategic interests in both regions.

Israel's decision to deliver advanced radar systems to China risks escalating cross-strait tensions and could renew the possibility of military action in the Taiwan Strait. On April 3rd, during his trip to Israel, Secretary of Defense William Cohen indicated the US "does not support the sale of this type of technology, because of the potential of changing the strategic balance in that region," especially, "with the tensions running as high as they are between China and Taiwan."

Cohen's statements are right on the money, but too little, too late. Israel will not renege on a finalized deal. The administration should realize this and focus instead on preventing this one-time deal from expanding into a long-term relationship. This particular sale won't change the China-Taiwan military balance anytime soon, but an agreement for the provision of more could have serious consequences.

A done deal

Israeli Aircraft Industries will soon deliver to China a Russian IL-76 transport plane equipped with the Phalcon early warning radar system, a system similar (and in some ways superior) to the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) the US has used since the 1970s. Although not a direct offensive threat in and of itself, widespread integration and use of this system by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) air and naval components would greatly enhance China's ability to project power across the Taiwan Strait.

Advanced aerial radar systems are a critical factor in combat at and over the sea -- such as in a battle over the Taiwan Strait. These systems allow the user to map the battlespace in real-time, pinpointing enemy positions and maneuvers, allowing the user to coordinate precise strikes on ships and aircraft.

China has made recent improvements in its capability to project power across the Strait. Russia recently delivered Sovremenny class destroyers. Chinese ship-to-ship cruise missiles are already among the most advanced in the world. The PLA Air Force has made vast improvements in its ability to operate at sea. Despite these improvements, China has remained unable to control the Taiwan Strait because it is not capable of managing and coordinating complex battle operations beyond the reach of its land-based radar installations. Receipt and integration of the Phalcon system would vastly improve China's aerial command and control capabilities.

Widespread integration of the Phalcon system into Chinese operations in the Strait is crucial -- one plane alone will not guarantee China's dominance of electronic warfare over the Strait. For China to retain 24-hour surveillance of the Strait for any length of time, at least four systems (planes) are required. While two could monitor the entire Strait for a short period of time, more systems are needed for deployment cycles and maintenance purposes. Israel announced to the Pentagon its intention to sell this equipment as early as four years ago, requesting certification that the deal would not include any proprietary US equipment.

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