Pentagon demands dismissal of Defense Ministry official

By Aluf Benn and Amnon Barzilai

Haaretz

Tevet 4, 5765

A crisis of confidence has broken out between the Pentagon and the Israeli Defense Ministry in the wake of U.S. complaints about Israeli deviations from weapons purchasing and sales rules and an Israeli report to the U.S. about a weapons sale to China.

According to Israeli sources, as a result of the crisis that broke out some months ago, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith cut off ties with Defense Ministry Director General Amos Yaron.

Feith, the number 3 man in the Pentagon, told people who tried to mediate to solve the problem, "it's either me or Amos Yaron." Feith is one of the ideological neoconservative Jews in the American administration and is considered one of the architects of the war in Iraq.

Part of Feith's job is to oversee the defense relationship with Israel. He and Yaron jointly chair a joint committee for planning defense policy. Channel 2 reported last night that the Americans are demanding Yaron be fired and that he will leave the Defense Ministry in the near future. An Israeli defense source denied this, saying that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is fully behind Yaron and does not intend to replace him.

Apparently, Israel is instead expecting Feith's departure from the Pentagon, regarding him as the problem in the affair. The defense source said the scandal began at a working-level defense meeting discussing Israeli defense exports to China. At the meeting, the Israelis mentioned a specific sale to China from a few years ago. The Americans were surprised, saying they knew nothing about it, and accused Israel of deliberately misleading them.

The Israeli ambassador to Washington, Danny Ayalon, spoke with senior officials in the Pentagon Wednesday and they made clear there is no American demand to fire Yaron. Ayalon said the issue of Israeli sales to China was discussed in the "proper channels" and "it is on the way to a solution." He emphasized that, in any case, the ties between Israel and the U.S. "are as strong as ever."

For more than a decade, the U.S. has been raising grave concerns about Israeli weapons exports to China. First, they accused Israel of transferring U.S. technologies without permission. In the summer of 2000, they forced the cancelation of the sale to China of a Phalcon, an airborne radar system equipped with advanced Israeli-made aeronautics on board a Russian-made plane.

The new crisis is over the sale of a weapons system from Israel to China. According to Israeli sources, information about the weapons system sold to China was provided to the U.S. by working-level Israeli officials, but when Yaron and Mor explained the deals, the senior American officials were completely surprised, raising worries that the Israelis had been hiding information from them.

"At first it seemed terrible," said an Israeli source Wednesday night, "but we managed to make clear to them that nobody lied and that we gave them the correct information."