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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/aponline/20000620/aponline142347_000.htm


Israel Aide Criticizes Helms' Tone

By Ron Kampeas Associated Press Writer Tuesday, June 20, 2000; 2:23 p.m. EDT


 

JERUSALEM -- In a rare shouting match between the closest of allies, a top deputy to Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday accused Jesse Helms of taking a "patronizing tone" with Israel when the powerful U.S. senator suggested Barak fire the aide.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh was reacting to the latest congressional broadside against his suggestion last week that any cut in U.S. military aid to Israel should be matched by a comparable reduction in Israeli defense procurements from U.S. manufacturers.

"What is worrisome is the harsh, patronizing tone of an important senator like Jesse Helms," Sneh told Israel radio.

Conservative lawmakers in both U.S. houses are considering a $250 million cut to Israel to match the sale price of an Israeli-made advanced airborne early warning system to China. The concern is that the PHALCON system would increase the Chinese threat to U.S.-backed Taiwan, and could one day be used to track U.S. planes.

Sneh suggested to parliament last week that if the cut goes through, the Israeli army would do well to spend an equivalent amount on "low tech" army supplies - boots, automatic rifles, and other items - in Israel.

He suggested that Israel had only purchased the items as a favor to the United States, and had deprived some of the poorest sectors of Israeli society employment in the process.

Israel plows most of the $1.9 billion a year it receives in U.S. military aid back into the U.S. economy in defense purchases.

Sneh's comments angered Helms, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sneh would "do well to bear in mind that the American businesses he intends to punish pay the taxes that make possible the foreign aid that his country receives from the U.S. taxpayers," Helms said in a statement published Monday.

"Sneh's threat is an insult to all Americans, including this senator who has been a longtime friend of Israel," said the North Carolina Republican. "Frankly, I feel that Prime Minister Barak may want to dismiss Mr. Sneh."

Sneh told The Associated Press that the outrage voiced by Helms and by Rep. Sonny Callahan, an Alabama Republican who heads the House Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, were based on a distorted understanding of his remarks.

"All I said was that if military aid to Israel is cut by $250 million, we would have no choice but to give up the procurement of low-tech items in order to keep the procurement of (U.S.-made) high-tech systems," he said.

Sneh said he believed that his remarks were distorted by people with "evil intentions." He would not specify whom, but Israel radio and the daily Yediot Ahronot both quoted unidentified Israeli defense officials as saying that leading U.S. defense manufacturers were seeking ways of limiting Israel's expanding defense sales - reportedly now reaching $2 billion a year.

Sales of Israeli defense products that contain U.S. components are subject to U.S. review. In the wake of the PHALCON controversy, the Pentagon recently pressed Israel to extend U.S. review to all Israeli military sales. Israel has resisted the request, and Israeli defense industry officials are reportedly concerned that such reviews would facilitate industrial espionage by their U.S. competitors.

Sneh said a threat to Israel's defense exports was a threat to Israeli security.

"Thanks to the defense exports, we can also conduct research and development for Israel security, and this is the secret of our qualitative superiority," he told Israel radio.

The Clinton administration is negotiating quietly with Israel to limit its exports to China, and administration officials have asked Congress to back off the threats.

"Helms' letter significantly contradicts the friendly, constructive spirit in which Israel and the United States are trying to resolve the issue of the sale of the PHALCON to China," Sneh said.



(c) Copyright 2000 The Associated Press


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