By Munir K. Nasser
Increased tension began to surface between the US and Israel over the sale of the Israeli PHALCON technology to China.
The Clinton Administration is pressuring members of Congress to ensure that US aid to Israel is not affected by Israel's plans to sell military technology to China.
Analysts in Washington believe that the Clinton Administration appears to have come close to a deal to stop the proposed cut by member of Congress Sonny Callahan (R-Alabama), chairman of the US House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations. Callahan threatened last week block the cost of the sale — $250 million — in military aid to Israel if it goes ahead with the sale to China.
The Clinton Administration efforts intensified as Callahan's committee began on Wednesday to debate the foreign operations bill, which includes $1.92 billion in military and $960 million in economic aid to Israel.
Israel is building a $250 million aircraft for China equipped with a sophisticated Israeli-developed airborne surveillance system known as PHALCON, which provides capabilities similar to those of the US AWACS system.
Sources in Washington believe Callahan had agreed not to push for the decrease in Israel's aid if Democrats on the subcommittee agreed not to push for early disbursal of the entire aid package to Israel. Early disbursement would allow Israel to receive its aid at the beginning of the fiscal year, giving it a financial advantage.
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made it clear that the Administration's effort to block the linkage — and reach a deal with Callahan — comes despite her own public opposition to the sale to China, which she says could endanger US interests in the region.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed that the Clinton Administration shares with Congress strong concerns about Israel's arms transfer and defense relationship with China. “We have made those concerns known to the Government of Israel at the highest level, and there is a continuing dialogue between us on this issue,” he told reporters at the State Department.
Boucher said the Israeli government is taking this issue seriously, but added: “I wouldn't say that we've seen a change in the situation at this point.”
A joint committee to supervise Israeli arms deals and technology transfers arrived in Israel to ensure that Israeli deals do not contain American components or technology, and that Israel does not sell arms to countries that would raise red flags for US national security interests.
Before the arrival of the committee, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh threatened to cancel orders with US companies if the Callahan committee cuts defense aid to Israel over the deal with China. Sneh called Callahan's proposal "unprecedented in its gravity and hostility," according to The Associated Press Thursday.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) announced that is working hard to stop the Callahan proposal and has been lobbying Callahan as well as others members of Congress and the administration, reports said.
Meanwhile, Arab American pressure groups had mixed reactions to the Callahan proposal.
Khalil Jahshan, President of NAAA-ADC, told Albawaba.com that Callahan’s measure is simply a voice of frustration on his part and a few concerned colleagues, who would not have the votes to do anything constructive with it. “Sometimes the Administration encourages that because they know how much credibility the Congress has in the eyes of Israel,” he said. “So they appreciate a member or two to put a little pressure on Israel to roll back some of its measures.”
Jahshan said this is not the first time Callahan “challenges the way the Israeli aid package is viewed on the Hill as an untouchable sacred cow,” he noted. “He is always offended and takes the lead when he sees Israeli interests being given prominence over US national interest, usually to the detriment of the latter.”
Jahshan believes, however, that Callahan proposals will go nowhere. “Practically speaking,” he stressed, “he raises a big fuss, and unfortunately he finds himself a lone ranger, because he doesn’t have the votes, not on the subcommittee, and not in Congress at large. This has happened with him in the past. He has always been a leading voice when cutting aid to Israel, and putting things in perspective, not spoiling Israel with special treatment.”
Executive Director of American Muslims for Jerusalem, Khaled Turaani, believes there might be some compromise on the issue. He told Albawaba.com there would be “some sort of compromise, but my guess it would be for the benefit of Israel.”
Turaani said the issue has been raised with the Israelis on many occasions, but considering the nature of the uniqueness of the US-Israeli relations, “I am not optimistic, particularly at this time during an election year when a political will or moral leadership in Washington to stand up to American rights in the face of pro-Israel support is lacking in Congress and within the Administration.”
Jahshan said the Israelis are trying to compromise because they definitely do not want a battle with Sonny Callahan. “But at the same time, the record is very clear,” he stressed. “They have always gotten away with murder. I am not optimistic that there will be sufficient votes within the committee or Congress at large to sustain an effort of this magnitude.”
Commenting on Sneh statement in Israel about the Callahan threat to cut aid to Israel, Jahshan said this is the arrogance of the Israeli position. “Even a statement coming from a moderate source like Sneh, reflects that level of arrogance that you get the feeling that the US policy is determined in Tel Aviv, but simply implemented here in Washington,” he said. “And it is hard to tell whether these members of Congress who blindly continue to support Israeli interests, represent the American people or the Israeli government.”
Turaani thinks this is a good first attempt and will continue to help educate members of the Congress and the public on this issue. “This is a healthy thing,” he added, “but we have responsibility there. Our role as Arab Americans, American Muslims and Americans, is to make sure that our representatives are aware of the facts and how we feel about them.” He said his organization would address Congress on the merits of the issue, and not from the stand point of Arabs and Palestinians. “I hope our representatives will take notice of it and take action. We try to become an alternative source of information to the pro Israeli lobby, he said – Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)