Arms-Export Reports Further Strain U.S.-Israeli Ties

Thomas L. Friedman

A series of charges this week that Israel has improperly re-exported American arms technologies to countries such as China and South Africa have rocked the already tense relations between the United States and Israel.

Administration officials have confirmed a detailed report by The Wall Street Journal, which said this week that the State Department’s Inspector General, Sherman Funk, had determined in a draft report that Israel has re-exported certain advanced American arms technologies to third countries without American permission. Israel has denied doing anything illegal.

That report came on the heels of an article in The Washington Times saying Israel had sent technology from an American-made Patriot missile to China. Israel denied this.

Administration officials say there are two factors behind this flurry of disclosures. One is a series of recent intelligence reports suggesting that at least some Israeli companies may be playing fast and loose with American regulations barring the transfer or re-export of American military technologies to third countries. The Journal said classified intelligence reports had provided “overwhelming” evidence supporting such charges. A U.S. ‘Bureaucratic War’

The other factor in the disclosures is a private guerrilla war that is under way in the Administration between pro-Israeli and anti-Israeli bureaucrats. In this bureaucratic combat, pro-Israeli officials are trying to smooth over relations and saying many of the reports are actually unproven.

Other officials, who are more critical of Israel, contend that some Administration officials have been far too willing to turn a blind eye to improper Israeli arms exports. These critics are making sure this comes to light.

“I don’t know about all the substance,” a senior Administration official said, “but I can tell you this is bureaucratic war. There are a lot of people trying to pull the Israel policy in their direction.”

Reports that Israel has improperly transferred American arms or arms technology to other nations have surfaced repeatedly in recent years, specifically in reference to transfers to Ethiopia and China, and the Israelis have always firmly denied them. Many Issues in Flux

The senior Administration official said the new accusations of Israeli wrongdoing come at a time when many issues between the United States and Israel are in flux: Israel’s request for $10 billion in loan guarantees, the coming Israeli election, and more generally the question of where Israel will fit into American foreign and military policy in the wake of the cold war. That subject will be on the agenda when Israel’s Minister of Defense, Moshe Arens, meets with Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney on Monday.

The latest arms reports also come in the wake of an article in The New York Post saying Secretary of State James A. Baker 3d had dismissed Jewish voters with an obscenity, which Mr. Baker denied.

The level of trust between Israeli and American officials today is low, which makes it even more difficult to reach compromises on problems like arms sales, Israeli settlements and loan guarantees, Israeli and American officials say.

Administration officials have tried to ease the tension. President Bush has invited a small group of prominent American Jews to the Oval Office to talk about the state of relations. Mr. Baker and Mr. Bush drove together to the Israeli Embassy this week to sign the condolence book on the death of Menachem Begin, the former Israeli Prime Minister.

Regarding the reports on arms transfers, Mr. Arens said this week: “The real story is who are these unnamed individuals who are floating these malicious rumors? These are obviously people out to damage these relationships.” More Than Just Rumors

American officials acknowledge, however, that more than just rumors are involved. In his draft report, which is to be released in two weeks, Mr. Funk has recommended that disciplinary actions be taken against the State Department’s Office of Political-Military Affairs, which is responsible for monitoring improper arms transfers, Administration officials said.

The Inspector General’s report chastises that department for failing to act on warnings that Israel was engaging in unauthorized re-exporting of American arms technologies. Officials said the Inspector General’s investigation was not set off by Israel, but was meant to look at how well the Department was policing sales by several countries, including Brazil and Singapore. They said the final report would deal with other countries as well.

Richard A. Clarke, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, who officials say is not on good terms with Mr. Funk, is being transferred to a different job, officials said. But these officials insisted that the transfer was part of a general reshuffling of jobs at the State Department and was not specifically related to the investigation.

Mr. Clarke happened to be testifying Friday before a Senate committee, and was asked to comment on the article in The Wall Street Journal. He described it as “an egregious leak of information from a draft report.” He said the information in the article was presented in a “slanted” fashion, but he did not provide specifics.

The Journal said the weapons Israel has improperly transferred include air-to-air missiles sold to China, anti-tank missiles sold to South Africa and cluster bombs sent to Ethiopa and Chile, as well as various advanced aircraft radars and jamming devices. Re-Export Maneuvers Cited

The Journal said American officials had determined that Israel employs several maneuvers to re-export American technologies. In one such maneuver, it said, Israel buys American components, installs them in an Israeli weapons system, and then sells the finished product to a third country. The article also said Israel had used a process of disassembling a weapon, unlocking its design secrets and then adapting it for resale as an Israeli product.

The Israeli Embassy’s spokeswoman, Ruth Yaron, said in a statement: “Israel’s policy is to adhere to the procurement and technology transfer regulations. The allegations discussed in various press reports are sensitive matters which are subject to negotiations between the Government of Israel and the Government of the United States.”

Secretary Baker, who appointed Mr. Clarke and has overall responsibility for how the State Department treats intelligence reports relating to improper arms transfers by any country, has not commented publicly on the affair.

A State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said: “The Inspector General is working on a report. It’s a full-scope, worldwide audit of the department’s Office of Defense Trade Control. That’s the office that’s responsible for licensing of U.S. munitions exports and for compliance and enforcement of the arms export control laws and regulations. The audit has been ongoing for several months, both at the State Department and other relevant U.S. agencies here in the U.S. and at a number of posts overseas.”

Source:, March 15, 1992


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