Israel has assured Washington that it's not transferring U.S. technology to China, but Pentagon insiders counter that Washington's intimate involvement in maintaining Israel's military edge over its Arab neighbors makes it difficult to distinguish between Israeli and American technology. And then there's the subtext of protest against Israel's use of its close alliance with Washington to ride roughshod over the sensibilities of the U.S. security establishment, which last year came out firmly against then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's demand that convicted spy Jonathan Pollard be freed as a condition of Israel's signing the Wye Accord. But despite their close alliance, the interests of Israel and the U.S. aren't identical. "Washington may be helping Israel develop various aircraft and missile systems," says Thompson. "But they're still two different countries with different goals, and it's inevitable that sometimes they'll be in conflict."
The Pentagon wants Israel to toe the line over arms sales to China, but it may be a matter of the pot calling the kettle black. The New York Times reported Thursday that the Clinton administration has discreetly urged Israel to stop further delivery of sophisticated airborne radar systems to the Chinese military after Pentagon officials raised the alarm. Israel's secretive military relationship with Beijing has allegedly involved the transfer of billions of dollars' worth of sophisticated equipment in recent years, including a $250 million radar system recently mounted aboard a Chinese military aircraft by an Israeli company. "Plainly, no military power likes to have its power challenged, and the Pentagon would prefer that this not happen," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "But so much U.S. technology has flowed to the Chinese that you have to take this with a pinch of salt."