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Miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings
Thursday, June 09, 2005
China Arms bill should affect Israel
Israel shouldn't be selling arms to China, period. Why shouldn't this bill apply to Israel?
This really bugs me. You (Ralphie) and I don't need to prove our way-out-pro-Israel Zionist credentials around here. We've written much in support of Israel and against her enemies. But just like it would be right to criticize us if we defended America when America does the wrong thing, when Israel is on the wrong side we gotta call 'em as we see 'em.

I have great sympathy for Israel's struggling economy, especially because of the harm done to Israel's economy by the recent intifada. Nevertheless, Israeli arm sales to China must make us envision the day when China chooses to reunify with Taiwan by force. The U.S. (I hope with every neuron) would come to Taiwan's defense. We would then have the horrible situation of Israeli arms being fired at American troops. That's just not OK.

Israel needs to be called out here. I fear that groups I generally support, like AIPAC are on the wrong side of this one. I'd love it if anyone could shed more light on this. David Bogner (of treppenwitz fame) works for a large defense company in Israel. I would value his thoughts.
I do have an opinion here, but it is the opinion of an Israeli... a private citizen... and not the statement of someone who is involved in the Israeli defense industry.

Weapons do not have nationalities or ideologies. Just as it was ridiculous that Israel was barred from supplying the Americans with bullets because the idea of killing Iraqis with Israeli bullets would be too offensive... so too it is wrongheaded to take into consideration who built a particular weapon if it is (potentially going to be) fired at American troops.

If a soldier is shot on the battlefield, he has no right to be angry with the manufacturer of the gun who shot him... only with the country who gave the order for the other soldier to fire.

Israel is in the arms business. They are one of the world leaders in this industry, and apart from tourism, it is one of the county's primary ways of supporting itself. Israel sells arms to all but a few 'pariah' states. This means that it sells arms - often through intermediaries - to countries who are sworn to Israel's destruction. Israel does this because it is not the weapon alone that acts in a fight, but also the ability and resolve of the country wielding the weapon.

We are not talking about the nuclear arms race where some countries have the magic weapon and others do not. We are talking about the conventional arms marketplace where every technology is known and understood by all.

Israel's big mistake in the past two decades has been in not weaning itself off of US aid. Because we are still beholden to the US, we must give in to pretty much any demands that they US makes on our foreign sales of arms. The problem is that many of these demands are quite self-serving since the US competes with Israel in the world arms market. Probably the best example of this is the famous Lavi project. The Lavi was a joint project between the US and Israel. It was developed entirely in Israel using Israeli and US funding. Once it became clear during test flights that the Lavi was at least 5 generations ahead of anything in the sky (including the most optimistic projections for the F16), the US pulled the funding and forbade Israel to continue development alone. If the Lavi had been developed, overnight every other fighter in the world would have become obsolete... and the US could not allow that to happen to McDonald Douglas, Boeing and other OEMs in the military aircraft business.

There never was, nor will there ever be, a situation where Israel would sell technology or arms to another country that was superior to what the US and Israel maintained in their respective arsenals. However, the US has had no problem selling avionics packages for UAE F-16s that are far superior to what they have made available to Israel. When confronted with this fact, they US says 'its just business', knowing that the Israelis will have to make up in skill whatever technical disparity might exist in a potential dogfight between an Israel and UAE F16.

Israeli weapons are not magic bullets that will instantly give superiority to anyone using them. The moment a new weapons system is developed and sold on the international market, everyone in the world knows its capabilities and creates doctrine for countering (or at least avoiding) it. If Israel sells arms to China, that is a business decision and is not a potential knife in the back of the US. The weapon is the property of those who own it... and the US has doctrine and battle plans for dealing with every weapon China could potentially deploy in a conflict over Taiwan. The crazy part is that if the US could, it would happily sell the weapons to China themselves!

The scenarios that are playing themselves out here are all about market share and money... not about whose weapons would be fired against American troops.
David: I appreciate the time you took to reply.

If you're saying that the technology that Israel sells isn't substantially different from that offered by other suppliers, then I guess the question isn't what kind of arms will China have, but will Israel make some money, or will some other country. Nevertheless, for Israel to outcompete those other countries, it must be providing a better product or a less expensive one. That it provides this through intermediaries to its enemies astounds me, but I guess supports your argument that the product isn't that different from what's available elsewhere.

I was surprised to learn that you're one of the few pro-Israel people I know who agrees with me that, in the long term, Israel is better off without American foreign aid. Besides the political strings that come with the money, having to actually balance a budget may have salutary effects on whoever is in power. I think American Jews would certainly continue to express their private generosity to Israeli causes, but there's no reason to charge the American taxpayer or send the check to the Israeli government.
I agree that Israel needs to become self-sufficient. And the US as the main sugar daddy does indeed wield influence. But that's not the issue here. The issue is selling arms to an enemy of the US, whether or not those arms are ever actually fired at Americans. (It's bad enough that they may be fired at anybody, in the name of restricting freedom and democracy.) It would be bad if the US sold arms to China, just as it is bad that they sell to the UAE. I didn't know that and am appalled. But, as they say on the playground, two wrongs don't make a right.

I also wish Israel could continue that fighter plane program. Whether the US wanted Israel to stop for economic reasons or because maybe they didn't want such weaponry showing up in, oh, I don't know - China - is irrelevant, and speaks again to the need for financial independence. Independence that must be achieved without selling weaponry to any rogue nation. (It pisses me off that we do business with China at all - I don't think there's anything in the US I can buy that's not made in China!)

As for the point of "Weaponry is weaponry, owners are owners, regardless of who makes 'em or sells 'em." That is, well, it's immoral, isn't it? Or at least amoral? I realize this can easily lead to some sort of 2nd amendment discussion, which is not what I'm getting at, and I certainly don't know much about that issue. But I think it would be immoral to sell a weapon to someone you know is a criminal, as well.

So the bottom line is whether it's right or wrong, not whether the US is prepared to deal with such weaponry or whether or not someone else will supply China anyway. And there you have it.
Ralphie... China is not at war with the US. There lack of declared or undeclared state of war means that you are incorrect to call them our enemy. China represents an enormous trading partner for US companies, and the US is a huge consumer of Chinese goods. There is also a tremendous amount of cooperation that goes on between the two countries. That having been said, China and the US do not agree on issues related to Taiwan, and that is not going to change any time soon. If one day push comes to shove and there is a shooting war over this issue, it won't matter if the Chinese army is using Motorola radios, Israeli UAVs, Japanese computers or French missiles... at that point the enemy will be China, not the brands of equipment they are using. No other country on earth is asked by the US not to engage in arms trade (except with a few pariah states) based on some hypothetical future conflict. Weapons, by definition, are made to be used in conflict. If the US could get Colt the contract to sell M16s to the Chinese army, don't you think they would jump at the chance?

Just so you understand what is really at issue here, the UAV that is at the root of the problem is the Harpy radar killing UAV. This is not a weapon that is designed to attack troops, but rather to attack radar dishes that support SAM (surface to air missile) sites. Yes, Taiwan has SAM missiles near all of their high value military targets... but one US Aegis Cruiser off the coast of Taiwan has more anti-aircraft and anti-missile capability than all the SAM sites combined... and it could easily take out the slow moving Harpy with it's Vulcan Phalanx system.

As to your argument about the morality of selling a gun to a criminal... Countries are not moral or immoral... or even criminal (again with a few exceptions). There is not one country on earth that equips its military only with domestic equipment of equipment manufactured by allies. The world arms market creates some of the strangest bedfellows you can imagine. If you do a search of all the countries that have US made F16 fighters you will quickly realize that many of these planes will likely face each other in combat. Does that make the US immoral for feeding two sides of a potential conflict? No. It makes the US a good businessman.

The International arms market is no different from the global commodities markets. Commodities have no nationality or ideology... only value.
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