Six years after the Pentagon cut off Israel from defense technology over concerns about leaks to China, U.S. military support for Israel’s missile defenses has produced interceptors capable of knocking out ballistic missiles and harder-to-hit artillery rockets.
“We had a serious problem with the Israelis, which we then discussed with them so that we could find a way forward where they would solve the problem, create new procedures, pass legislation and create the confidence that we would be able to work with them reliably on defense cooperation,” said Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy in the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Feith led defense talks with Israel during the administration’s first term.
“The lessons from this incident were very significant on the Israeli side,” Mr. Herzog said in an interview. “Basically, the Ministry of Defense decided that the relationship with the United States is more important than selling more systems to the Chinese.”
The United States has known about Israeli military sales to China since the 1970s, but had turned a blind eye until the early 1990s.
“We started having a problem with Israel in the 1990s, especially after the 1996 Chinese missile threats against Taiwan when we got the feeling that China’s ballistic missile technology was modernizing way too fast,” said John Tkacik, a former State Department intelligence analyst on China.
While Bill Clinton was president, Israel transferred sensitive radar technology to China, including armed Harpy anti-radar drones that were spotted by U.S. intelligence agencies deployed opposite Taiwan, prompting the Pentagon to argue that Israeli technology might be used against American forces in any defense of the island.
The tension between the United States and Israel boiled over during the Bush administration. Frustrated by Israel’s lack of candor over its arms sales to China, Amos Yaron, the director general of Israel’s ministry of defense, was at one point barred from entering the Pentagon.
Mr. Feith said: “My understanding is that a lot of progress was made by the Israelis; they did pass legislation and they did create new procedures and they did do a lot to remedy the concerns that we had.”