We learned pretty quickly after last week’s successful Hezbollah missile attack on an Israeli corvette that the missile concerned probably came from Iran. Less well known was the fact that if the missile was what analysts said it was, then its original place of origin was China.
I’ve mentioned before that Israel is China’s second largest defense supplier, in terms of value. The PLA’s basic kit comes from Russia for the most part, with Israel supplying the fancy goods including advanced missile technology.
OK, small irony here. Nothing that wouldn’t rouse a chuckle between the two country’s respective defense attaches at an Embassy do. Yet Israeli defense sales to China have possibly been the most serious threat in the past to Israel’s defense relationship with the United States, especially since Israel has a track record of letting sensitive kit head eastwards. But they’re also necessary to preserve Israel’s military edge against groups like Hezbollah, amongst others:
Israel exports 75% of the total production of its military industries. Israel's military industry is dependent on exports for its survival. And arms sales to China are among its most lucrative businesses. Therefore, arms trade with China is very important, providing contracts for jobs as well as income to offset the high costs of maintaining Israel's technology and industrial base.
Sales to China come mainly from Israel’s state-owned defense sector, the profits from which are used directly to pay for the IDF. China adopts a similar policy of arms sales to whoever will buy – Iran, for instance - through parastatal companies with the money flowing back to build up Beijing’s armed forces.
This is where the logic gets interesting. The more Israel fights, the higher its defense budget gets and the more it needs to be funded through selling advanced weapons systems to China and others. This in turn makes it possible for China to move towards its own strategic military goal of establishing an effective sea lane denial strategy to the US navy, as detailed in the latest American Department of Defense report. And the more that China’s arms industry develops, the better it is able to supply countries like Iran which in turn pass the goods on to Hezbollah.
Everyone’s very polite about this. The US recently agreed that Israel could resume selling arms to China under its own recognizance (previously all arms sales to the PRC had to be signed off by the Pentagon). Israel doesn’t protest that it’s valued defense partner sells ship-busting missiles to Israel's "greatest existential threat". And Iran doesn’t mind at all that Chinese money subsidizes armed forces of the horrible "zionist entity". It’s just a shame that non-lethal diplomacy can’t be as civilized.