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Business Executive for National Security
June 2, 2022
Israeli Arms Exports to China of Growing Concern to U.S.
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Wade Boese

The United States has reportedly increased pressure on Israel about its arms sales to China, and Israel has given assurances that it will not export any item that could harm U.S. security, according to U.S. and Israeli officials in January.

U.S. concerns about Israeli arms sales to China have existed for more than a decade and came to a head in July 2000 when the United States persuaded Israel to cancel the sale of the Phalcon, an advanced, airborne early-warning system, to China. Afterward, U.S.-Israeli differences over arms sales to China publicly receded but resurfaced in early January when the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the United States had recently asked Israel to end all arms sales to China.

U.S. and Israeli officials have not publicly confirmed whether the United States made such a request, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher suggested that the Israeli-Chinese arms trade is a continuing problem. He said January 2 that it is an “ongoing subject of discussion” between the United States and Israel. He further stated that the subject “comes up regularly” and there is a “need for any suppliers of weaponry to be considerate and concerned about the strategic situation in a region that’s of great sensitivity and importance to us.” The United States is a strong supporter of Taiwan, which Beijing is seeking to reunify with the Chinese mainland.

China, according to the Associated Press, issued a written statement January 3 declaring, “No country has the right to interfere in the developing military trade cooperation between China and Israel.”

When asked whether Israel had halted all arms sales to China, a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Ministry replied January 8, “Defense relations between Israel and China require from time to time consideration of specific issues. This revision [sic] is conducted vis-à-vis China and on concrete issues also vis-à-vis the U.S., bearing in mind American sensitivity.”

Another Israeli official, who asked to remain anonymous, explained in an interview January 8 that Israel is committed to refraining from exports that would harm U.S. security. The official suggested, however, that Israel would continue to sell some military equipment to China that is readily available on the global arms market.

One nongovernmental expert in Washington familiar with the issue, who also wished to remain anonymous, said his impression is that the United States is seeking to curtail Israeli arms sales to China to the greatest extent possible, while Israel is seeking minimum restraint on its exports.

The largest recipient of U.S. aid, Israel first approached China about possible arms deals in 1979, reportedly hoping to win some Chinese restraint in arms sales to Israel’s neighbors and enemies.