Bill Clinton spoke at Hunter College in New York on
Tuesday, challenging President Bush to send American
troops as part of an international peacekeeping force
to the Middle East. What many Americans donít know is
that U.S. forces might as well be there already.
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
The UN, Amnesty International and other groups have
raised questions about the extent the to which U.S.
military aid is abetting human rights abuses by
Israeli forces operating in 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
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 helicopters.
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
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
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 a research associate for the Arms
Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute
and a military analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus.