WASHINGTON -- Israel has sold advanced military technology to China for more than a decade and is moving to expand its cooperation with Beijing, says R. James Woolsey, the director of central intelligence.
The CIA assessment was provided in written responses to questions by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The committee made the assessment public last week as part of a report on recent hearings it conducted on "proliferation threats of the 1990s," a committee aide said last night.
Despite the fact that Israel and China did not establish diplomatic relations until 1992, there have been many news reports about the sale of Israeli military technology to China, and the Rand Corp. has made similar assessments. The CIA's response to the committee was reported last night by NBC News and confirmed by the aide.
The CIA says China has been acquiring advanced military technology from Israel for more than a decade on programs for jet fighters, air-to-air missiles and tanks. The agency said the sale of Israeli military technology to China "may be several billion dollars."
Despite the previous reports, the bluntness of the CIA assessment surprised congressional specialists and appears to reflect a growing concern among American intelligence experts that China is seeking to use Israel indirectly to obtain U.S. military technology.
The intelligence agency reports that despite worries in the West about China's military buildup and its export of missile systems and other weapons to Pakistan, Iran and other nations, Israel has continued to share military technology with the Chinese.
"Building on a long history of close defense industrial relations -- including work on China's next generation fighter, air-to-air missiles, and tank programs -- and the establishment of diplomatic relations in January 1992, China and Israel appear to be moving toward formalizing and broadening their military technical cooperation," Mr. Woolsey said.
Explaining its assessment, the agency noted that Beijing and Jerusalem recently signed an agreement to cooperate in sharing technology in a number of areas, including electronics and space. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel was visiting Beijing yesterday to discuss the broadening of Israeli-Chinese ties.
In addition, an increasing number of Israeli military firms also have opened offices in China.
"Beijing probably hopes to tap Israeli expertise for cooperative development of military technologies, such as advanced tank power plants and airborne radar systems, that the Chinese would have difficulty producing on their own," the agency said.
The agency's assessment is likely to provoke calls in Congress for greater scrutiny of the sale of American military technology to Israel.
Ruth Yaron, spokeswoman at the Israeli Embassy, said last night that she had not seen Mr. Woolsey's statement and could not immediately comment on it.