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U.S. Investigating Reported Israeli Sales of Patriot Missiles to China

By John Lancaster
and Barton Gellman

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

The Bush administration is "looking into" an intelligence report that Israel may have secretly supplied China with Patriot missile technology acquired from the United States, a senior administration official said Thursday.

The official described the report as "a subject of concern" but declined to provide any details. The United States gave the Patriots to Israel during the Persian Gulf War to defend against attacks by Iraqi Scuds, expressly forbidding transfers of the Patriots or their specifications to third countries.

The possibility that Israel may have violated that agreement, first reported in Thursday's Washington Times, is a matter of extreme diplomatic and political sensitivity. Israeli Ambassador Zalman Shoval was recently summoned to the State Department to discuss the intelligence report. Israel later denied the allegation through diplomatic channels and American Jewish groups Thursday questioned whether someone had leaked the story to embarrass Israel at a time U.S.-Israeli relations are under strain.

Although some scientists have begun to question the Patriot's reliability, the Raytheon Corp. product remains the only battle-tested, anti-missile defense weapon in existence, and Pentagon officials would like to keep it that way. Another concern is that if China or other countries acquired Patriot technology, they might figure out how to defeat it.

Israel acquired two batteries of Patriots worth $117 million in September 1990, a month after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Each battery consisted of five launchers and 64 missiles. Israel later arranged purchase of a third Patriot battery, whose missiles are slated for delivery in March 1994.

A recent Rand Corp. study identified Israel as "China's leading foreign supplier of advanced technology," citing reports that Israel has helped the Chinese develop air-to-air missiles, tank armor, missile-guidance systems, and a new combat aircraft. But several analysts Thursday expressed skepticism that Israel would go so far as to break its agreement with the United States on the Patriots, especially when the technology might someday wind up in the hands of an adversary.

"The notion that [Israel] would transfer it to the Chinese, when they would presumably make much of the data available [to other countries], seems to me on its face implausible," said Jonathan Pollack, who directs the international policy department at Rand.

Spokesmen for the White House, State Department, and Pentagon refused comment on the matter. But there were several indications that the administration is looking carefully into the intelligence report, which according to one source was brought to the attention of President Bush.

In one sign of the administration's skittishness on the subject, national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft Thursday morning called Pete Williams, the Defense Department's chief spokesman, and instructed him not to talk about the issue, according to a source. "Pete got told by Scowcroft that they were handling this as an intelligence matter and you can't show concern or anything else," the source said.

Sources indicated that the administration has not reached any conclusion as to the truth of the intelligence report. "I don't know whether it happened," the official said. "I don't know whether we know whether it happened. I know we are concerned."

Another U.S. official said the Israelis "have a bad track record" on arms transfers, noting they have sold weapons containing U.S.-supplied parts to Taiwan, Chile, South Africa, and China. He said a previous sale to China involved "small" missiles but declined to provide details or give the date.