JERUSALEM - In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and the global war on terror that quickly ensued, it is difficult to remember that the first challenge to American security that the Bush administration encountered came not from the Arabs but from the Chinese.
On April 1, 2001, the Chinese government detained 24 US naval personnel whose EP-3E reconnaissance plane made an emergency landing on Hainan Island in China after colliding with a Chinese F-8 fighter craft that was tailing it. The Chinese held the US crew for 13 days before releasing them.
Today the US and Israel are embroiled in a serious dispute which Israeli Defense Ministry Director General Amos Yaron referred to as a "crisis" in his testimony Wednesday before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. According to reports, the crisis revolves around Israel's upgrade or servicing of Israeli-made Harpy unmanned aerial vehicles which Israel sold to China in the mid-1990s.
The US objects to the upgrade or servicing of the UAVs and is currently demanding that Israel not return the weapons to China, in spite of the fact that China already owns them.
Concerned that Israel may buckle to US pressure, Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Tang Jiaxuan flew to Israel this week to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and ostentatiously invited him for a state visit to China.
There is good reason for the US to be concerned over Israeli arms sales to China. China, with the second largest national economy in the world, an annual economic growth rate of eight percent, a seemingly insatiable and growing appetite for petroleum and rising global interests and influence is viewed by US policymakers in both parties as one of the central rising challenges to US global power.
At the same time, it should be noted that Israel's arms sales to China in the mid-1990s, including the sale of the Harpy UAVs as well as the aborted sale of Phalcon AWACs aircraft, received the blessings of the Clinton Administration, which in the run-up to the 1996 presidential elections was conspicuously courting Chinese support for the campaign. Bill Clinton's reversal on Israeli weapons sales to China in 1999 came about as a result of his weakened position in his scandal-wracked second term. His weakening, which was due partly to allegations that his campaign knowingly received illegal campaign contributions from Chinese agents, combined with allegations of Chinese nuclear espionage at the Los Alamos nuclear research facility, caused Clinton to do an about-face on his China policy.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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