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The contretemps with the United States over the sale of Israeli-made Harpy assault drones to China is threatening to turn into a crisis with China as well.

Washington is demanding that Israel not send back to China some of the drones sent here for upgrading. The drones are already Chinese property.

The Israelis who heard the demand were astonished, considering there is no American technology in the drones. However, American sources say Israel will have no choice but to comply with the U.S. demand. The powerful pro-Taiwan lobby is warning that advanced Israeli weapons technologies could be used against U.S. soldiers defending the island state off the coast of China.

The crisis in U.S.-Israeli defense relations arose when the Pentagon's number three, Undersecretary of State for Policy Douglas Feith, learned that Israel had sold advanced-technology Harpy assault drones to China in the mid-1990s and was upgrading the unmanned airborne vehicles for the Chinese.

Feith, a strong supporter of Israel, was furious and backed by his superior, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, another ardent Israel supporter in the administration. Feith reportedly demanded the resignation of Amos Yaron, the Defense Ministry director general, on the grounds that Yaron had not provided a full accounting of the Israeli deal with China.

The Harpy case is not the first crisis that has arisen between the U.S. and Israel over sales to China. In a similar case, Israel went ahead with a plan to sell a flying radar plane known as the Phalcon to China, but the U.S. vetoed the sale.