The US Department of Defense yesterday denied that it had called for Israel to fire Ministry of Defense director-general Amos Yaron due to sales of Israeli defense equipment to China. However, US Department of Defense spokespersons declared that Washington had called for Israel, like all other US allies, including European Union nations, to behave responsibly when transferring technology and selling weapons and military equipment to China.
In separate conversations with "Globes" Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (Media Operations) Bryan G. Whitman and Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Rose-Ann Lynch each said that there was no personal aspect to the events related to arms sales to China. Both read an identical statement, apparently part of a Pentagon briefing, according to which "this is a diplomatic matter, not a personal one; we don't tell other countries who their officials will be."
The statements were made after Israel's Channel 2 reported yesterday that the Pentagon was demanding that Yaron be fired, after Israel upgraded a weapons system it had sold to China without notifying the US, in clear contravention of Israeli-US agreements.
Israel Ambassador to the US Daniel Ayalon told "Globes" that "the most highly placed officials" at the US Department of Defense made clear to him that the reports were completely false. Ayalon said that the Pentagon described a news report in today's "Ha'aretz" as "utter nonsense". The paper had reported that US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith had declared, "It's either him [Yaron] or me," in reaction to Yaron's part in the sale of the aforementioned system to China.
Ayalon did admit, however, that the two countries are divided over a particular sale of Israeli military equipment to China, but declined to give details. He said that the matter "was worrisome to the Americans, and negotiations between us and them to settle the problem are being conducted through the usual channels."
"Israeli-US relations are as strong as ever, as evinced by the fact that our talks are held in a pleasant atmosphere of transparency and full cooperation between the two sides."
Several sources believe that this particular matter will be settled soon, perhaps within a few weeks. Ayalon and Israel Embassy in Washington military attache General Amos Yadlin, will meet with Pentagon officials in January as part of efforts to settle the matter.
Defense sources in Washington told "Globes" that the matter began when a particular defense system was sold by Israel to China, with full US approval. The system is not a weapons system in and of itself. After some time, Israel sold China system maintenance parts, but did not notify Washington under the assumption that a system already approved and sold, already had the go-ahead from the US.
"We appreciate the fact that Israel agreed to cancel the [Phalcon] airborne warning and control system (AWACS) sale to China in 2000," said Whitman. "This shows an understanding of US apprehensions of the collective danger inherent in the potential arming of China and its allies. We hope that this understanding will continue to guide Israel."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on Thursday, December 16, 2004