- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

The famous old tale goes like this: An aide to the Israeli prime minister came running in to tell his boss of a terrible drought that would wipe out the nation's wheat production. When the prime minister learned that the drought was in Israel, he sighed in relief. "Why didn't you tell me. I was afraid that the crop failure was in the United States."

Perhaps more than any other U.S. ally in the world, Israel frets over America's interest. It shows in Israel's voting pattern in support of U.S. positions in the United Nations, surpassing other American allies. It is apparent in the close and extensive intelligence and security cooperation between Israel and the United States. Israel's willingness to help U.S. interests even challenged Israel's own national interest during the Gulf War when the United States asked Israel to absorb volleys of Iraqi Scud missiles without responding.

The Israeli government and people are thankful for the assistance the United States provides so that Israel can meet the many security challenges it faces. American diplomats have worked tirelessly to promote a lasting peace with our Arab neighbors, to help Israel take its place at the United Nations as an equal member state, and to open and expand relations between Israel and nations in the Muslim, Arab and developing world.

Sometimes the two countries disagree. During the debate over the sale of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia almost 20 years ago, Israel expressed concern that the planes could be used to control air attacks against Israel and Israeli aircraft. American spokesmen repeatedly asserted that the aircraft constituted no danger and could only play a defensive role. In a more recent disagreement, Israel expressed concerns that the sale of advanced U.S. fighters and missilery to Israel's Arab neighbors erodes Israel qualitative edge. The U.S. administration assures us that it doesn't. So we agreed to disagree.

These disagreements do not damage the fabric of the U.S.-Israel relationship; if anything, they drive the two parties to deepen consultations and cooperation. Earlier this week Prime Minister Barak and President Clinton directed their senior staffs to meet and explore finding a solution to the disagreement over the sale of a Phalcon AWACS aircraft to China.

In recent days, questions have been raised about the sale, which was first conducted about four years ago with full American knowledge. In response, Israel stresses the following points:

m Israel and the United States are close allies, and as such, Israel will not endanger American national interests. A strong United States is the cornerstone of Israel's own national interest.

• A strong indigenous Israeli arms industry is vital to Israel's national interest. The United States also benefits from the advanced research and development carried out in Israel's industries. Recent examples of symbiotic research and development efforts include the Arrow anti-ballistic missile, conformal fuel tanks for advanced aircraft, reactive armor on American tanks and personnel carriers to name but a few. Israeli industries may be seen by some as competitors to American industries, but more often than not, the industries in the two countries also cooperate on joint projects.

• The Phalcon sale to China does not involve American technology or the transfer of American-made equipment.

• Israel faced stiff competition from another U.S. ally, Great Britain, which sought to sell its AWACS aircraft to China.

• Cancellation of the contract would shake to the foundations the credibility of Israeli industries.

• Delivery of the one Phalcon aircraft will not take place for more than a year. Much can happen in that period in U.S.-China relations.

For several decades, Israel and China maintained no relations whatsoever. Chinese weapons and training were provided to some of Israel's most hostile neighbors. If that trend had continued, modern Chinese weapons in the hands of Israel's Arab foes would have represented a serious strategic threat to Israel. With American diplomatic assistance, China and Israel established relations in 1991, and the relationship has grown since.

China's President Jiang Zemin is visiting Israel this week. Commercial hi-tech industries, particularly in the field of communication, are on the president's itinerary in Israel. Another field of civilian cooperation between the two countries is in agriculture. The Chinese-Israeli International Center for Agriculture near Beijing trains hundreds of students in more than a dozen courses in advanced Israeli agricultural methods and technologies.

Israel's ties with China do not and will not come at the expense of American national interests. Israel will not permit that to happen.

Lenny Ben-David is deputy chief of mission at the embassy of Israel in Washington.

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