By Munir K. Nasser
A pressure campaign to force Israel to cancel its proposed sale of the PHALCON airborne radar system to China has escalated in Washington, with prominent Congressmen threatening to cut future aid to Israel if the sale goes forward.
The tension between the US and Israel heated up following a bipartisan unanimous vote in the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday which approved an amendment to the 2001 foreign appropriations bill that strongly urges Israel to cancel the deal. The committee warned that if Israel sells the airborne radar system to China, it would jeopardize all future US aid.
The amendment said that Congress is “very disturbed by reports that Israel is preparing to provide China with an airborne radar system that would threaten both the forces of democratic Taiwan and the United States in the region surrounding the Taiwan straits. The amendment urged Israel to terminate the existing contract with China.
The new amendment was spurred by a proposed amendment by Republican Sonny Callahan to hold back $250 million in military assistance until Israel cancels the deal. Callahan’s amendment was defeated in the committee last week.
Other committee members voiced strong objections to the deal. Ranking Democratic committee member David Obey of Wisconsin said Israel would be punished if it went ahead with the sale.
"If that sale goes forward, I have no intention of supporting further aid to Israel. Period. That ought to be pretty damn clear," he said.
Prominent voices on the Senate side also sent out strong signals that Israel should cancel the deal. Republican Senator, Jesse Helms, the powerful chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, put a temporary hold this past weekend on the sale to Israel of a total arms package valued at $590 million. Helms and others in Congress have threatened to employ other legislative measures this fall to sway Israel into canceling the deal.
Last week, Helms, under pressure from pro-Israel lobbyists, withdrew a proposed amendment to cut Israel's aid by $250 million shortly before the Senate approved the 2001 foreign aid package. Helms, however, was spurred to take new action by comments made by Israeli deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh, who threatened two weeks ago to reduce Israeli imports from the US by $250 million should Congress approve an equivalent cut in aid to Israel. Helms said he was offended by the remarks and called on Prime Minister Ehud Barak to dismiss Sneh. "He will do well to bear in mind that the American businesses he intends to punish pay the taxes that make possible the foreign aid that his country receives from the US taxpayers," Helms said in a statement – Albawaba.com
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