Drone Tug-o-War Brings Chinese Dep. PM to Jerusalem, Involves Rumsfeld

Chinese deputy prime minister, State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, flew in to Israel secretly Saturday night, December 25. His mission: to recover an unspecified number of Israel-built Harpy unmanned aerial attack vehicles sent back for overhaul or upgrade and held back by Israel at Washington’s insistence.
No official word has been released on the visitor or the message he carried.
According to debkafile‘s political sources, the Israeli prime minister’s and defense minister’s offices have known the general content of the message since the middle of last week.
These are its main points.
1. It is time for Israel to appreciate that China is a world power.
2. Israel is stepping out of line for the second time on a defense transaction. In 2000, the Barak government called off the sale to China of Phalcon surveillance craft under US pressure. (Ex-prime minister Ehud Barak brought the news to President Clinton at the Camp David conference with Yasser Arafat). China received $350 million indemnity from Israel for defaulting on the deal.
3. This time, Beijing will not accept monetary compensation. The drones must be returned. Sold to Beijing several years ago, they now bear Chinese military markings. Withholding the craft is tantamount to illegal seizure of a Chinese weapons system and will bring down on the Jewish state serious reprisals.
4. The Chinese government does not accept the pretext that the Harpy drones are being held back because of the Americans. The Israelis are bound to work the issue out with Washington.
5. Failure to send the UARs back to their owners will be detrimental to Chinese-Israeli diplomatic relations and prejudicial to the interests of Israeli firms operating in China.
According to debkafile‘s Far East and Washington sources, Beijing hit the ceiling when it learned that the White House had exacerbated the Chinese drone crisis by shifting it from lower Pentagon ranks to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld in person. The file was also passed to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
For Israel, the implications are grave indeed. The entire complex of US-Israel defense ties is now up for review in the light of Israel’s compliance with or defiance of Washington’s demand to withhold the Chinese UAVs. Putting the case before the Senate Committee invites a review of US appropriations to Israel, including military aid, in the full realization that delayed transfers would cause Israel severe financial damage. President George W. Bush thus signals that he would not be averse to a senate committee reprimand of Israel and posts a hands-off sign to Israel’s Capitol Hill lobbyists.
The decision-makers in Jerusalem and the defense establishment in Tel Aviv knew the crisis was brewing last August. But they let it ride for four months, hoping for the best, because of their total immersion in extinguishing the domestic fires lit by prime minister Ariel Sharon’s evacuation plan. So now, Israel finds itself in the line of crossfire from two world powers, the United States and China, with serious diplomatic crises in its relations with both.
The drone argument has three sides:
Seen from Beijing: The Chinese army, the PLA, has been using the Israel-built Harpy close-range surveillance and targeting UAV for a wide range of functions, including electronic warfare, airborne early warning (AEW) and ground attack roles, as well as reconnaissance and communications relay. Since 1992, Chinese planners have been constructing an advanced AEW electronic system ready for a potential diplomatic or military showdown with the United States on the Taiwan dispute. Since the PLA lacks a strategically advanced system to match the US Global Hawk, its generals decided to base its electronic warfare capability on three elements:
A. AWACs planes for electronic tracking and warfare as well as simultaneous command and control functions over bomber and fighter fleets.
B. A wide range of UAVs for intelligence gathering, electronic warfare and attack.
C. Anti-Radiation Missiles which are under development for use against American AWACs and spy-planes. The most advanced Chinese operational missile is the FT-200, known as “the AWACS killer”. However, American tracking and radar systems are not only airborne but also consist of stationary and mobile stations and shipboard systems on carriers and warships. To deal with any menace these weapons may pose, Chinese strategic planners have designated a range of drones capable of verifying and destroying targets.
mg class=”picture” src=”/dynmedia/pictures/harpy1.jpg” align=”right” border=”0″>The key element of this force of killer drones is the Israeli Harpy (see photo) which is capable of patrolling the skies over a battle field or an enemy target and seeking out hostile radar by comparing its signal to the hostile emitters in its library. Once it is verified, the drone attacks. Even if the targeted radar is switched off, the Harpy version sold China can abort the attack and hover until it is reactivated and then return to the attack.
In 2000, Israel, under pressure from the Clinton administration, reneged on a three-cornered deal with China and Russia to build and supply three Phalcon systems fitted on Russian aircraft as the basis for a Chinese fleet of AWACS. Two years later, Beijing came up with its own AWACs and
mg class=”picture” src=”/dynmedia/pictures/awacsCHINA.jpg” align=”left” border=”0″>is building four KJ-2000 systems (see photo), whose first test flight took place in November 2003. A year later, the first KJ-2000 went operational. At around the same time, the drone crisis erupted with Israel.
Beijing believes it has emanated from Washington’s determination to deprive China of this vital system as part and parcel of its overall scheme to impair the airborne intelligence system the Chinese are building. Without the Harpy, Chinese AWACS will still be able to gather data on enemy radar and emissions, but its army and air force will lack assault weapons, aside from conventional bombers.
As seen from Beijing, this is the second time in four years that the United States has stage-managed an Israeli disruption of the electronic systems without which a Chinese strike against Taiwan is not possible. Developing an in-house system would consume years with no guarantee of success at the end. Even if the Chinese started today, the PLA would not be equipped for military action before 2007 at the earliest or, more realistically, 2009.
The Chinese government suspected Israel in 2000 – and again now – of being disingenuous in claiming its hands are held by Washington. They see Israeli undertaking to supply the advanced technology to China, on the one hand, and, on the other, playing ball with the Americans to withhold it in default of a written contact.
This conviction brought the Chinese deputy prime minister to Jerusalem with a sharp, unequivocal demand. It was Israel’s responsibility to check with the Americans in advance on the Harpy transaction. Once the drones were handed over to Beijing and money changed hands, the American problem was in Jerusalem’s lap – not Beijing’s.
Seen from Washington: US officials claim Israeli never asked permission or notified the administration about the Chinese sale. However, since no American-developed technology is present in the Harpy, Israel was under no compulsion to check with Washington on the sale. The transaction only came to light in Washington when the UAVs were returned to Israel for overhaul or upgrading – and even then the information came not from Israel but US intelligence. In actual fact, Washington was informed by Taiwan, which recently also purchased Harpy drones from Israel.
A senior US military source asserted to debkafile that the tangle Israel has spun here is hard to explain – even by the ambition to boost its defense exports. Because the Chinese were supplied first, their model is less advanced than the up-to-date version sold Taiwan and other recent clients. Beijing demanded an upgrade after discovering its drone lacked the more advanced instruments incorporated in the newer version for identifying target signals not only from its library but visually – which enables the unmanned craft to strike targets after their radar is switched off. China demanded that its Harpy drones be brought level with the UARs supplied Taiwan.
Israel assented – again without informing Washington, although it denies stepping out of line. However, a senior US source said to debkafile: Even if Israel is hell-bent on selling arms at any price, it was surely imprudent to plunge its hands into the boiling water of one of the most sensitive elements of US strategy – the balance of strength between China and Taiwan.
Seen from Israel. According to our sources, the defense ministry’s director general Amos Yaron and head of the ministry’s foreign division Brig. Kuti Mor, will have no choice but to step down quite soon and assume responsibility for the imbroglio. But their resignations will not cure the damage or solve the Sharon government’s dilemma.
When Israel proposed returning the Harpy UARs to China without upgrading, it was slapped down by both powers. Beijing insists on the upgrade, coupling its demand with threats against the operations of Israeli firms not only in mainland China but also the thriving concerns in Hong Kong. The United States, for its part, will not hear of the drones returning to China, overhauled or not. Now, Washington is watching to see how Israel picks its way out of the impasse, while at the same time preparing a bludgeon to bring down on its head. Israeli officials are frantically casting about for a way out of one of the most acute and damaging crises ever encountered by the Jewish state.

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