IDF Trying to Boost China Ties Ahead of Iran Sanctions Vote

IDF to present the Chinese with Israel's view on Iran's drive toward nuclear military capability.

The head of the army's Planning Directorate, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, will make an official visit to China next week to meet senior officials in the defense establishment there. Eshel, who is in charge of strategic planning and foreign affairs for the Israel Defense Forces, is hoping to present the Chinese with Israel's view on Iran's drive toward nuclear military capability.

The head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, recently traveled to China and relayed to his hosts details of the Iran's progress toward nuclear arms.

The spokesman for the Chinese military, with a rank of brigadier general, visited Israel last week as a guest of his Israeli counterpart.

The Israel Defense Forces considers exchanges with China to be important in softening Beijing's opposition to international sanctions against Iran - which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons.

Last week China announced for the first time that it would consider going along with sanctions against Iran, even though its final decision will be made following talks in the UN Security Council over the substance of the resolution that will be brought for a vote.

In conversations with Israelis in recent weeks, Chinese officers and officials have made it clear that they both oppose Iran's drive to acquire nuclear arms, but also any military action to stop the Iranian program. The Chinese also said that they oppose targeting Iran's nuclear program through sanctions.

The Chinese opposition to sanctions was presented as a point of principle and was justified by the historic experience of the Communist regime in China, which suffered in its early decades as a result of Western sanctions.

U.S. and Israeli efforts are focused on convincing Beijing that the best alternative to preventing a nuclear Iran and a military operation targeting it would be to agree to more severe sanctions - without actively supporting these.

A successful effort to convince Russia, another permanent member of the Security Council, to support the sanctions would result in four of the five members voting in favor of tightening sanctions against Tehran, while Beijing would abstain and not veto the resolution.

China sells arms, equipment and advanced technology to the Iranian military and the Revolutionary Guard, which also make their way to Hezbollah. These include an anti-shipping missile that struck the Israeli gunship Hanit in July 2006.

A U.S. intelligence report on the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles in 2009 was delivered to Congress last week. The unclassified version concluded that the Chinese government has implemented, during the past two years, legislation that is meant to monitor the export of banned items, but enforcement is not complete.

"Chinese entities" continue to sell items "related to missiles" to many clients, including Iran, according to the report.

The improvement in IDF relations with China is striking in view of the cooling of ties between the U.S. and Chinese militaries during the past two months, as a result of the announcement of the Obama administration on January 30 of plans to sell arms worth $6.4 billion to Taiwan.

Even though the United States was careful to stress that the arms in the package are not offensive weapons - Blackhawk helicopters, Patriot air-defense missiles, and mine sweepers - the Chinese responded by freezing contacts between the militaries of the two powers.

The exchange of visits by senior officers from Beijing and Jerusalem also reflects the rebuilding of ties that were strained following the crisis over the cancelation of an early warning aircraft deal in 2000. The sale of the Phalcon radar that ELTA was to mount on a Russian-made Ilyushin IL-76 transport aircraft was vetoed by the Americans.

The U.S. concern then, as it is today, is that China will upgrade its military capabilities to operate far from home.

In recent years Israel has been careful to follow American guidelines and avoid exporting sensitive military equipment to China.

As a result of the cancelation of the deal, Israel was forced to pay China $350 million in compensation.

Talks with Chinese officers suggest that the effects of that crisis have been minimized but not entirely forgotten: One officer said that he was surprised to witness, on arrival at Ben-Gurion International airport, a test flight of the second of the three Phalcon early-warning aircraft that are being supplied to India. A $1.1 billion deal was signed in 2004 following the failed Chinese deal. The aircraft was delivered to India late last week.