U.S. Administration Contemplating Not Selling Supercomputer to Israel

The Bush administration may not grant export licenses to U.S. companies seeking to sell supercomputers to Israel, out of concern the sophisticated equipment would be used to design nuclear weapons.

State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher said last week that the administration is reviewing such applications to Israel, but that there has been no U.S. decision yet.

Boucher said requests are being “scrutinized in the same careful manner as all supercomputer export applications to countries which are not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Under the 1968 treaty, which Israel and South Africa have not signed, signers agree not to provide nuclear technology to countries that did not possess nuclear weapons by that date.

In addition to not signing the treaty, Israel has come under increased scrutiny following news reports alleging that it recently transferred nuclear technology to South Africa.

NBC News and the Washington Post reported in late October that Israel has supplied South Africa with technology to build a “nuclear-tipped missile.” But while both reports quoted U.S. officials, the administration has publicly said there is no evidence of Israeli cooperation with Pretoria.

Boucher last week categorically denied that Israel has transferred Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile technology to South Africa. “According to our information there has been no such transfer,” Boucher said.

ALLEGATIONS OVER COOPERATION

Allegations about Israel-South African cooperation may have been specifically leaked to influence the administration’s decision on whether to sell the supercomputers to Israel.

Neither U.S. officials nor the two major U.S. supercomputer firms — Cray Research Inc. of Minneapolis or the International Business Machines Corp. of Rockland County, N.Y. — would state when supercomputer applications for Israel were filed or who filed them. One Commerce Department official cited a 297-day limit for ruling on export license requests.

U.S. fund-raisers for Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology confirmed that it has been actively seeking a Cray supercomputer for more than a year.

In 1988, The American Society for Technin’s Greater Washington and Western regions stated a campaign to raise $3.5 million to fund the supercomputer.

Julian Feldman, Washington representative of Technion’s U.S. affiliate, said it has raised $775,000 of its $1 million goal to finance the mainframe of the supercomputer.

Meanwhile, Technion’s Western U.S. region has raised about $600,000 of its $2.5 million goal to pay for “computerization” equipment that would complement the mainframe, said Gary Leo, the Western regional director.

A fund-raising fact sheet supplied by Feldman stated that “a project taking one month on the supercomputer would take more than eight years using Technion’s current equipment.”

At present, Technion scientists journey to supercomputer facilities in the United States and West Germany “to complete computations on research projects which would take years to accomplish on the conventional computers now available to them in Haifa,” according to the fact sheet.

Beyond the Technion, it remains unclear what other Israeli institutions are actively seeking U.S. supercomputers, Reuters last week reported that there were six pending applications to sell supercomputers to Israel.

A State Department official confirmed that there are other Israeli institutions seeking U.S. supercomputers, but refused to provide any names.

The Washington Times reported Nov. 3 that the Sorek Center in Israel was collaborating with Hebrew University in seeking a U.S. supercomputer.

But while Hebrew University was involved in an “initial discussion” with Cray about buying a supercomputer, that discussion “did not go very far,” said Bob Wade, spokesman for American Friends of Hebrew University. Wade said Hebrew University has decided not to seek a supercomputer.

Various print media, including the Washington Times, have reported that Israel Military Industries is also seeking a U.S. supercomputer. An IMI marketing official in Washington denied the claim.

The New York Times in August singled out the Technion as the sole Israeli facility seeking a U.S. supercomputer. It also reported that two institutes in Brazil are seeking supercomputers made by IBM, and that the Indian Institute of Technology is seeking a Cray model.

India and Brazil, like Israel, have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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