WASHINGTON, Nov. 16 (JTA) — The initial furor over Israel’s sale of a radar system to China appears to have quieted, but the issue has renewed worries in Congress that U.S. allies are selling advanced military technology to Beijing.
The State Department said it does not believe Israel sold U.S. technology to China, and several Jewish activists said they believe the issue will fade because no laws were broken.
But U.S. lawmakers are still worried.
Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he is concerned about China acquiring advanced radar technology, and Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), the ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, said he is worried that the technology could wind up in the hands of countries like Iran.
Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told C-SPAN last week that “hearings might be appropriate on the subject in general on technology transfers and potentially specifically this case with radar technology from Israel to China,” according to a top aide, Bill McCann, who said no hearings have been scheduled.
The controversy comes at a time of U.S. concern over Beijing’s intentions toward Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province. While the Clinton administration has sought to engage China — he supported a deal to allow Beijing into the World Trade Organization — many Republicans and Democrats in Congress are leery of China’s human rights record. The announcement of the deal also comes several months after a congressional report alleged that Chinese spies engaged in a 20-year campaign to steal U.S. military secrets.
Meanwhile, China denied on Tuesday that it planned to buy the radar system, despite Israel’s announcement of the deal.
“We don’t have defense cooperation with Israel,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sun Yunxi, said when asked to comment on the reported $250 million deal, according to Reuters.
The Israel-China relationship was mentioned in a major report released earlier this year by a House committee investigating Chinese espionage and acquisition of U.S. technology.
The report, spearheaded by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), said Israel has been one of China’s leading suppliers of American technology during the 1990s.
“Significant transfers of U.S. military technology have also taken place in the mid-1990s through the re-export by Israel of advanced technology transferred to it by the United States, including avionics and missile guidance useful for the F-10 fighter,” the report says. “Congress and several executive agencies have also investigated allegations that Israel has provided U.S.-origin cruise, air-to-air, and ground-to-air missile technology” to China.
The declassified sections of the Cox report do not provide any details about these “significant” transfers allegedly made by Israel. A large piece of the report remains classified after a vetting by the Clinton administration’s security officials.
The Bush administration investigated whether Israel illegally transferred Patriot missile launch systems technology to China, but the investigation did not confirm that such a transfer occurred.
The United States barred the sale of U.S. military equipment to China since Beijing crushed the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.
Shoshana Bryen, the director of special projects for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, said problems arise between the United States and Israel concerning such deals because of the close working relationship the countries have in developing weapons technology.
“The Israelis tinker with everything they buy from us,” she said, noting that there are differences on where American technology stops and Israeli technology begins.
Mark Regev, the Israeli Embassy’s spokesman, said in a prepared statement that “Israel has an elaborate system of checks and controls in regard to defense related exports by Israeli corporations which, of course, takes into very high consideration the special strategic and political relationship with the United States.”
Israeli and Jewish officials have noted that the radar system is a defensive system.
“We are not giving [China] missiles or nuclear technology,” an Israeli source said.