Jewish Journal

Letter to an American Friend

by Eric Silver

Posted on Jul. 6, 2000 at 8:00 pm

Dear Uncle Sam,

Why are you humiliating us (Israel) like this? OK, you've staked us for decades, vetoed countless Security Council resolutions, trained and armed our brave fighters (though it wasn't till the '70s that you started selling us warplanes). But we're big boys now, big girls too. We want to stand on our own feet. Once we've made peace with the neighbors, we hope, as that nice Yossi Beilin said, we shan't need your handouts any more.

But first we have to earn our living, to make friends with old enemies. Like the Chinese, who can still cause us a lot of grief by slipping arms to the wrong sort of people and encouraging those who don't share our (and your) peaceful aspirations. Like the Indians, who were never exactly enemies, but have only recently started talking strategic cooperation and cultural exchanges. And these two Asian states, as you well know, have one billion people each: emerging markets teeming with American traders and investors.

So, I ask again, why are you humiliating us? Four years ago, we advised your administration that Israel Aircraft Industries planned to supply the brains of an early-warning plane to China, a contract worth a quarter of a billion dollars, creating thousands of jobs for skilled Israeli workers. With more to follow, if we delivered to Beijing's satisfaction. The technology was all blue and white, as is the aerial radar system we are selling to India (which also happens not to be Washington's flavor of the month since it tested a nuclear device).

We were giving you a chance to tell us why we shouldn't go through with the deal. You kept shtum. So we signed a contract and started building, and we even left the old Soviet-made airframe in plain sight of anyone driving on the narrow road north from Ben-Gurion airport, where IAI has its plant. At least you can't call us sneaky. Foolhardy, maybe, but not sneaky.

Now, suddenly, you are ordering us to scrap the deal. Just like that. And not just ordering, but threatening to hit us in our pockets and weaken our pilots and soldiers. You are chastising us, in short, like naughty children. Or a banana republic. We hoped we'd grown beyond that.

I know about Israeli politics from close-up. I know about American politics from a distance. So I can't be sure why you have suddenly turned nasty. Could it be something to do with the presidential and congressional elections? I think you call it "playing the China card," a game that spirals ever upward and upward. Or could it be to protect the U.S. arms manufacturers from pesky competition?

Of course, those are not the reasons you offer. The early-warning planes, you say, could cost the lives of American pilots. Israeli technology could kill our dearest allies. But wait a minute. That means you expect to be waging war against China. Perhaps we'd better say mainland China. Cold-war vocabulary, like cold-war paranoia, has a long shelf life.

Please share your evaluations. What are the prospects that Beijing will invade Taiwan with such force that America will have to intervene? One in 10? One in 100? One in 1,000? One in a million? We all need to know, and not just your Israeli friends.

Even in what you like to call the "worst-case scenario," how much difference would the AWACS make? I seem to remember that when you were selling the same technology to Saudi Arabia you told us it was a purely defensive weapon. And if, as seems increasingly likely, Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak has to yield to your arm-twisting, do you think nobody else will sell AWACS to China? Not enemies of the United States, but NATO allies like France.

So hypothetical American pilots will still be shot out of the sky by hypothetical friendly fire in a hypothetical war that may never happen. In World War II, the allies had a term for what you are demanding of us: unconditional surrender. But that, dear uncle, was between enemies. Germany had earned its humiliation.

Your obedient servant,
Eric Silver

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