TEL AVIV (Aug. 3)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is reconsidering plans to sell 40 Kfir jet planes to Taiwan as a result of pressures being exerted on him by the People’s Republic of China.
Rabin met Monday with senior Israeli officials to discuss the implications of going ahead with the deal, which is valued at $400 million.
Israel waited two years before obtaining U.S. approval of the deal. The Israeli-designed planes are manufactured by Israel Aviation Industries, but the aircraft are fitted with American-made jet engines.
But now the Beijing authorities have protested the deal, which they fear will strengthen their traditional enemies, the Taiwanese.
The mainland Chinese are reported to have threatened to downgrade, or even cancel, their recent diplomatic recognition of Israel, which involved the mutual exchange of ambassadors.
Israel’s national airline, El Al, is scheduled to start making direct flights from Tel Aviv to Beijing at the beginning of September.
The agreement with Taiwan had been initialed before the opening of diplomatic relations with mainland China.
According to published estimates, Israel had been maintaining healthy levels of exports to China even before the establishment of full diplomatic relations between the two countries. Their sales to the Chinese, including arms, are put at more than $400 million.
Monday’s meeting at the prime minister’s office was scheduled to include Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Defense Ministry Director General David Ivri, and IAI Director General Moshe Keret.
The warning from the Chinese was reportedly conveyed to Jerusalem by Israel’s ambassador to Beijing, Ze’ev Sufot.
This is the second Kfir aircraft deal with a Far Eastern country recently to be put in jeopardy. Israel had previously reached an agreement to sell a large number of Kfir jet fighters to the Philippines, and the deal had been ratified by the United States.
The agreement had been initialed by officials of the previous government of the Philippines, but its implementation has been postponed by the new president in Manila, Fidel Ramos.