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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Barak flies to China

Defense Minister to meet Chinese counterpart to discuss Iranian threat, peace process and defense ties.

In a sign of growing ties between Jerusalem and Beijing, Defense Minister Ehud Barak left for China on Saturday night, in the first such visit by an Israeli defense minister in a decade.

Israel significantly downgraded its defense ties with China in recent years due to American pressure, and Israeli companies are forbidden from selling weaponry to the Chinese military.

In 2000, Barak – then prime minister – caved in to US pressure and suspended the sale of four $250 million Phalcon advanced early-warning aircraft to China due to concerns that they had American technology installed.

In 2005, Israeli-US defense ties hit a low-point after Israel agreed to upgrade Israel Aerospace Industries drones that were sold to Beijing in the 1990s. As a result, the US downgraded Israel’s participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Barak will meet Chinese National Defense Minister Liang Guanglie and other senior officials to discuss “regional issues, the Iranian threat, advancement of the peace process and terrorism,” a statement from his office said.

Despite the ban on arms sales, Israeli-Chinese defense ties have picked up in the past 18 months.

Two weeks ago, Adm. Wu Shengli of the People’s Liberation Army Navy visited Israel and met with Barak and commander of the Israeli Navy V.- Adm. Eliezer Marom. And last June, OC Home Front Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan headed an Israeli military delegation to China.

Last year, Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin – then-head of Military Intelligence – also flew to Beijing and presented classified intelligence on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.